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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  August 18, 2010 12:00am-12:30am PDT

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. first up tonight, international best-selling author ken follettt, who has sold more than 100 million books. he serves as executive producer of a new south african film called "white wedding," and it will be seen in select cities starting september 3. also tonight, rock icon john mellencamp. tonight, a performance of his song "don't forget about me." that is coming up, right now.
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>> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i am james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference, you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports tavis smiley. with every question and every answer. tavis and nationwide insurance, working to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment, one at a time. >> and by contributions by viewers like you. thank you. tavis: ken follett is one of the most successful authors of our time, and his last is an eight-
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part miniseries on the starxz network, in addition to another book -- on the starz network. "white wedding" is upcoming. here are some scenes. >> why bother? >> for companionship. bills, raising kids to get there. expectations. have to talk all of the time. >> terrific. >> why did you not just shut up? >> no, you shut up. >> the truth is always better,
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no matter how much in herds. tavis: ken follett, a pleasure to have you today. tell us about the movie. >> the director also writes with two south african writers, and she said to me, and i know them, because every time i go to johannesburg to see my stepdaughter, we have dinner with them, and they make me laugh all evening. so one day, she said, "i would really like to make a feature with them." and i said, "what a great idea, because you would hardly have to write it. those two guys are so funny, they could improvise." and she said, "how much will it cost? " she told me a fib.
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i said, "let me finance it." maybe we will make some money, but even if we do not, it will be great to make a south african comedy. tavis: the fact that is your stepdaughter. you do realize that movie-making and investing is pretty risky. >> well, i do realize that, but i just felt that, and comedy is difficult. i do not do, the, but i know it is difficult. i just knew that this team, i thought this team could do it wonderfully well, and so, i thought, i am going to finance it. ok, i know it is risky, but i just had such faith in the story and the idea. it is a get me to the church on time story. kenny has to be in town for his
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wedding, and someone is driving him, and everything goes wrong, including that there is the go to that has to be sent to the wedding. -- this goat has to be sent to the waiting. is a gift. i know it is going to be funny, and every time i have seen it, i have seen in three times now, everyone is laughing their socks off. tavis: "you have to have faith in the riding, faith in the riding." you know what it is to have faith in the right thing -- you have to have faith in the writing, faith in the writing." you know what it is to have faith in the writing. >> i was not one of the writers, because they do it together, but
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i did review the script, and i did make a few suggestions that strengthened the story because i think comedy is great. there must be last. that is the important thing, but there also has to be a story that progresses -- there must be lasughs. will he get to the church on time? so i did suggest adding elements that strength and the story, but basically, they came up with the laughs -- elements that strengthened the story. tavis: there are billboards everywhere advertising " pillars." welcome to l.a.. >> in almost feels like i am
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famous. -- it almost feels like i am famous. tavis: since it is area, it makes me think that you signed off on -- since it is airing, it makes me think that you signed off on it. >> i just wrote back and said, "thank you very much. note this is terrific." there have been occasions when i have written back to the producer and said, "here are five things that i think could make this better." and every time i do that, i never hear back. it and the relationship. i become invisible -- it ends the relationship. this is one of situations where ."said, "i love it pure
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you have to shorten it and make some new connections, and he did that so well. he maintained the strength of the story, which is what people love about the book, so i was really happy. tavis: obviously, in this town, every deal is different, and i went to go back and in the past, you had written some notes and send them to the producer and never heard back again. demand, i should say, would you allow yourself to have your things turned into a miniseries? a lot of people want to see their work become a film or a mini series, but nobody wants to see their stuff bastardized on the scenrene. >> the truth is the writer of the original book really has no control. very few people have control over a movie or a television
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series. the people who put money in have some control, but the writer, most of the actors, there is a director, obviously, who has some control, but the writer of the book, really the position the author is in is hoping for the best. crossing your fingers, that is a good policy. to tell you the truth, i do not know how much i would want. i tell a story in words, and they have to tell a story in pictures, and it is a different skill, and i am not sure if i had control that i would be making the right decisions korea is a tough thing. tavis: but you like this one? but -- making the right decisions. it is a tough thing. tavis: but you like this one? >> yes. donald sutherland, 30 years ago. tavis: he obviously likes your stuff. i know there is not a whole lot
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you want to say about it now begin sherbrooke is not out for a couple of weeks, but since you are here, i thought i'd ask you about "fall of giants." >> my last got such a warm response that i wanted to do something similar. a long book like "the pillars of the earth," you see their lives from beginning to end. this is like a snapshot, but in a long book, you see their lives, and that is difficult to do. i wanted to do something that wieters would find that satisfying, but i did not want to write another medieval story. tavis: although you do it well. >> thank you. >> the 20th century is, first of all, the most violent century in
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human history. it is also very intriguing. why did we have these wars? the changes in the 20th century, it is like 1000 years of previous changes. so when i write about the 20th century, people will be interested. i try to give people as well as a good story that they will really enjoy, i want to help them understand something. it might be science. viruses. help them understand that. i think people want a little more than just a story. people want the story, that is the main thing, but they want a little more, so i thought if i could explain a little of the 20th century as well as the story, it is our lives. we have lived in the 20th century. our parents, our grandparents. i have a photograph of my grandfather in a british army uniform. he was 19, and he volunteered, and my grandfather e grandfathervans evans, he was a
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coal miner. he went down in the pit. so what happened in "fall of giants," that happens. tavis: 01 they lived in this. when you are writing historical fiction, how do you know where the line is? when you are taking too much of liberty? >> well, you have to be careful. i sometimes of real people, like president woodrow wilson is in this story, and if he says something in a conversation, it really has to be ideally something he really did say, maybe in a speech or maybe something he wrote, the words he actually said, or something very close to what he said, because it is important for me and i think for my readers that the history is accurate.
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even though that is not the prime thing. the prime thing is the story. nevertheless, the history has to be accurate. that it is true to these real people, these great leaders and to the ordinary people boat. tavis: you mentioned earlier that when you get a chance to write these long forms, these big, dense books, you suggested earlier in is good for the writer -- it is good for the right to dig in. i imagine this must be torturous at times -- it is good for the writer. tavis: yes. >> one of the things i've taken to do is keeping an xcel spread sheet, so every time i introduce a new character, i pasted into the spreadsheet.
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it is so easy to give someone blue eyes in chapter 3 and green eyes in chapter 7. tavis: you have got to have that spreadsheet. >> i can check back and see what i said. also, how old they are. that is something you also get mixed up on some tenures it, and -- some 10 years on, and xcel will calculate that for me so i do not have to do it. and as people move through these dramas, the main thing is to move through it with what they are feeling. are they scared? are they anxious? are they brave? you know, that is the core of the story. tavis: that is something you never lose track of. >> yes, i know these people. tavis: the color of the eyes
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are? >> they are blue. tavis: do not forget that. exactly, and i ask you because you are living a life -- your wife was in parliament for 13 years. >> yes, she has been in politics for her whole life. she started out as a teenager in south africa, and that is our connection to south africa. there was the apartheid movement. she had to leave. there were death threats. she was elected in 1997, the same time as tony blair won the election, in she just retired, so she was 13 years a member of parliament -- and she just retired. tavis: you obviously are more than tangentially connected to politics. your sense to mr. cameron and what is happening in the u.k.? >> well, i belong to the other
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side, so i was disappointed that andon, that' cameron won, the electric and the other side did not light brown. we are waiting to see what happens. the coalition, nick clegg, it is a little early to say. they have taken a different line on the economy. they have decided to pay back debt instead of stimulating the economy. tavis: was that the right decision? >> i think it was the wrong decision. tavis: we are having that debate now. >> i guess it was the wrong decision, but we will find out. tavis: what is your sense of, and i am asking you specifically be good your wife was there and was a part of it, how will history regard the tony blair years? >> well, i feel, my big thing,
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my the enthusiasm during that period, it was the teaching of reading in schools, because before the election, there was the labor party task force -- labour party task force. that has been a huge success in our country, the teaching of reading. it has been transformed. i said this before the election. there is nothing more important, because that is the next generation's ability to do everything they need to do. so i was very keen on that, and that has been a triumph. some of the things did not turn out so well. you win some and lose some, and one of the things i was proud of was kind of a triumph. tavis: the war? >> barbara had to vote about the war in iraq, voting on
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whether or not to join united states or not. tavis: coalition of the willing. >> and she thought it was the most important vote that she would have, and as you can imagine, we talked about nothing else for several days. it was absolutely nothing else was happening, and she decided to support the war in iraq, and i agreed with her on that decision. now, it has not turned down as we thought, but saddam hussein was a tiring to killed 100,000 kurds, a different race within his country -- was a tyrant. maybe we were wrong. these decisions are very difficult. anyway, barbara supported the war. tavis: does she feel, does ken follett feel, as many brits do, as many americans do, that we
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were misled? we were on the evidence or lack thereof misled? >> we were misled, no question. the british newspapers had headlines that said that he could bomb london in 45 minutes. that came from the government, and it was not true, so, yes, we were misled. tavis: the literacy issue you raised a minute ago. why was that an issue that needed to be so aggressively address? i am out of the loop on why the receipt was so low on the totem pole -- why literacy was so low on the totem pole in the u.k. >> we have got complacent. there had been an idea, which, it sounds good. the idea was the teacher knows
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best on how to teach reading in his or her classroom. it sounds like a good idea. it is not a good idea because some teachers are wonderful, and you have to plan for the teachers who are not so good. otherwise, their students will fall behind, and the transformation was about emphasis. nowadays, in our schools, every child is tested on their reading between five and 11, tested seven times per year, and the children who are not making the expected progress are targeted and give an extra help, and we were not doing that -- and give an extra help. regent are targeted in given boat -- are targetted and given extra help. with some kids, it is crucial, so we just needed to change our
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focus and change our emphasis, and the labour government policy was every day, every class, and least one hour of literacy. that was a good policy. that worked. tavis: a busy guy. "white wedding" will be in select cities september 3. "fall of giants" is the new book that will be out late september which we are anxiously awaiting, the first in a trilogy about the "pillars" on, and starz. anything else i should mention? >> that is enough for now. tavis: good to have you on. >> my pleasure. tavis: up next on the program,
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john mellencamp and his band are coming up. stay with us. from the new cd "no better than this," here is john mellencamp with his song "don't forget about me." have a good night and keep the faith. ♪ forget about me when you are holding someone else's hand remember we had dreams and plans don't forget about me don't forget about me boat
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please don't make me a used to be someone lost in your history don't forget about me i know the thrill of love is waning you cannot see the pictures i am painting of me and you together from life to get to heaven don't forget about me when you break a promise and lose our name i am still going to love you just the same don't forget about me
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♪ i know the thrill of love is waiting -- waning you cannot see the pictures i am painting of you and me together from life to death to heaven don't forget about me when you're holding someone else's planhands don't forget about me
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♪ [applause] >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley boaat tavis: hi, i am tavis smiley. another performance from john mellencamp next time. we will see you then. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i am james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference, you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance proudly supports tavis smiley.
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with every question and every answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis smiley in working to improve financial literacy and removing obstacles one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station by viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] captione national captioning institute
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