The Making of Marco Polo
By Derek Handley

 

 

Part 1 - Background

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  I first became aware of the reconstructions in early 1997. At that time I heard that Bruce Robinson was about to release a new reconstruction of Marco Polo under the Change of Identity (COI) banner. I think I was one of the first people in the UK to get a copy. I sat and watched it through and delighted in the clarity of the David Holman soundtrack and seeing the pictures matched up to it for the first time. I don't think I had ever seen so many pictures from the story together at one time before, but then I realised that I had copies of a few photos that weren't in Bruce's recon. I wrote to Bruce immediately to let him know, he was quite pleased that there were more pictures available, but also a little frustrated that he hadn't known about them in time for their inclusion. He told me that if enough new pictures could be found, he would do a revised version of Marco Polo.

I made it my job over the next few years to track down as many photos from the story as I could find. Not only did I send Bruce new photos, but I also managed to get him better copies of every picture he has used in his original version. Bruce used around 100 different pictures in the existing reconstruction; I have now unearthed around 280 pictures.

As with most of our reconstructions Dean and I have often have quite lengthy debates on how certain scenes should be produced. This was certainly true of Marco Polo but as time progressed, and Change of Identity (COI) became Joint Venture (JV) then Master Plan Productions (MPP) we were becoming increasingly frustrated both by the amount of time that it was taking to put together the new recon and the fact that we had little control in how it was being edited. We had very often toyed with the idea of producing a Loose Cannon version of Marco Polo but as COI/JV/MPP had been working on the project for several years this idea seemed a bit redundant. We guessed that their production must be pretty impressive and very near to completion after all this time.

Dean and I met Bruce during his visit to the UK in the summer of 1999. During his visit Dean had offered to review draft episodes of Marco Polo for Bruce and in February 2000 we both became temporary members of the MPP team whilst simultaneously working on Loose Cannon reconstructions of the Reign of Terror and Mission to the Unknown.

At this time the MPP team had been unsuccessful in persuading Mark Eden to participate in the reconstruction and in Richard Bignell's documentary. Dean wrote to Mark Eden and was surprised when Richard Bignell called Dean to say that Mark Eden had telephoned to say that he was prepared to be interviewed. With this fantastic news Dean and Richard met Mark Eden and filmed the interview and the MPP introduction voice-over that Dean had scripted at short notice.

In terms of production, we were both finding it quite frustrating that some of the sequences that the MPP team had planned were very different to the way we had envisioned them. For example the map entries caused considerable discussion. The MPP team had been let down by a local artist who had promised but not produced a version of the map of Asia this was causing considerable delay to the production. However, Dean's wife is an amateur artist and stepped in to produce an ink illustration of the map in accordance with the specification provided by the MPP team. Although we were unhappy with the format of the map we were prepared to see what was being proposed. Our main objection to the proposed approach was that the MPP team wanted a map of the whole of Asia. We believed that a better, and more authentic, approach was to have modular maps dedicated to each sequence. As some parts of the journey were relatively short (in some instances only a few miles on the desert sequences) we felt that this could not be accurately represented on a map spanning several thousand miles.

In October 2000 the MPP team announced that they were going to stop distribution of their recons. Robert Franks had warned me that this would be happening but that it would be after they had finished Marco Polo. We realised that the work we had done towards a new version of Marco Polo would probably never be seen, even if it did finally get finished. So almost immediately following the formal announcement, we started work on the Loose Cannon version. However this time we were free to produce the reconstruction in our own time, style and specifications.