Tuesday 29 September 2009

Yet more screenwriting tips and advice - On Writing From The Heart

There is a lot of writing advice out there. And it's all really great. You can learn how to structure properly, you can learn the ten things script readers are looking for, you can learn about how many explosions you need to put in to impress studio execs, you can read up on the common mistakes new writers make and you can read articles on how to choose character names. You can read the books on 'How To' and you can take the courses on 'What Producers Want.' You can do all of these things.

But instead, you could write what you want.

Because, yes, it's true - Producer's do want safe pictures. They do want stuff to guarantee them money. But that doesn't mean they actually know what they're looking for. And if you go chasing what people want to read, it's unlikely you'll give it to them. I mean, they might say 'all scripts must have scenes about Elephants who enter beauty contests' and you'll write them into your story-- but it's not going to have truth, it's not going to be organic. Whereas if you just write what you want, write what you feel, write what you have to say - then believe it or not, someone is going to feel your voice.

Remember when you FIRST started writing---- do you remember? You'd write a little story, or a scene; then you'd read it back and be amazingly excited. These characters and these words are magically SPEAKING YOUR WORLD VIEW! They say everything you need to say. It's amazing how quickly we lose that.

Or the first time you found a writer who REALLY inspired you. Who made you bounce around with excitement. The first time you picked up Roald Dahl, or the first time you watched a film and had the realization that somebody had written those beautiful words. Well, when you think back to what those words were; they were probably written by someone who wrote what was in their heart. They spoke what was bursting to come out. That's what made you want to write.

It breaks my heart to see new, enthusiastic young writers, giving in so easily to this notion that they should be writing by committee. That they're okay with some slick guy in a business suit with a mobile phone stuck to his ear saying "yeah, scrap that scene. Scrap that character. Put in some breasts on page 5 and and a death on page 42." That is not what great writing is.

"Well, that is not what inspires people. That's not what inspires people. Shut up. Play the game. Play it from your heart"
-Jerry, in Jerry Maguire.

This industry is tough. We need all the advice we can get. You need to know what a screenplay is like and you need to have an idea of what works-- but here's the thing. There are thousands of people out there writing spec screenplays that suit a predetermined 'market' or some notion picked up about how screenplays are meant to be. You can do that-- or you can be one of the few people out there who is writing WHAT THEY WANT, saying WHAT THEY NEED TO SAY. I guess it just comes down to what kind of writer you want to be. Do you want to inspire people? Do you want to say something REAL? Do you want to have HEART?

It's no easier to do that. To write who you truly are and say what you really need to say is even harder than writing a studio-executive-friendly-action flick. But I dare you, I double dare you-- write what you really want to write, say what you really need to say. "Hollywood sucks," "films aren't what they used to be" -- you've heard these things a million times. They're true. If we are going to find exciting, dynamic, truly gripping films-- they need to come from us, the new generation of writers. And we need to get out of this mindset that somebody knows what's the right thing for us to be writing.

Narrative feature films are less than a hundred years old. How to make a great film is not set in stone. Until the 1970's, nobody knew that disaster films would rake in the millions. Until 'The Blair Witch Project' nobody knew that an amateur looking handheld flick could be one of the most profitable films of all time.

"Nobody knows anything."
-William Goldman

If you follow all the advice, instructions and rules-- you might write a good screenplay. It might be exactly what someone wants and it may well get made. In that case, I salute you. You've achieved what you set out to do.

But, if you write what is truly you--- even if you have this idea about two people who are locked in a toilet at a Diana Ross convention......... if that is truly what you are excited and passionate about. WRITE IT. When we are passionate, truthful and writing from who and what we really are, that's when the nuggets of wisdom come out. That's when we truly comment on the human condition. That's when we inspire people.

So it's time to decide. Do you want to write 'Transformers' or do you want to write 'Shawshank Redemption'? The choice is yours. Right now you have enough time to decide-- realistically; with enough dedication, hard work and soul-selling; you could conceivably write a major popcorn-Hollywood blockbuster. But you could also use that same dedication to your craft to write something personal, moving and truthful. And, like 'Shawshank Redemption' - you might flop at the cinema. But, eventually-- justice would be served, as it always is by moving and honest material, such as Shawshank. If it's good, it'll find an audience. Even if that audience is seven people. If you move them enough, they'll tell seven of their friends. Seven by seven, the world will get to see your movie. It's up to you, decide who you want to be. Decide what you want to write. Write what you want. Or write what they want.

Care to share?

Sunday 27 September 2009

Why Everyone Should Really Get Some First Aid Training.

When somebody smashes down onto the floor, head-first, whilst painful screeching noises come from the depths of their throat, as they simultaneously froth at the mouth; it would, perhaps, be nice to have an inkling of an idea of how to respond appropriately. The collective response of everyone on set; hoping someone else knew what to do, is not something I, nor I suspect anyone else, was particularly proud of.

I admit to feeling relief when someone yelled "call an ambulance!" - because that was something I could do. It mattered. It was important. It was far better than staring at this guy on the floor, wondering why I am such an idiot of a human for not knowing how to respond.

Although this happened on a film set, it really applies to everyone, everywhere. It got me to thinking-- if I was out with a friend, walking through a field - and they suddenly smacked down on the floor, unable to move-- I would like to at least have some kind of idea as to how to respond. How many of you know what to do when these things happen? I'm going to be honest and tell you, if you told me right now to put you in the recovery position-- I wouldn't know what to do.

How awful is that!!!?!? Surely, as a human being, I should know. I don't want to play Doctor and I don't even want to take charge whenever somebody has an episode of some kind; I would just like to be confident that I am not completely useless.

I would like to know that I can play a part in helping another human being when they need it the most. And I don't ever want to momentarily freeze again. Admittedly, this freeze was only for about a millisecond-- but life comes and goes in a millisecond.

Film sets in particular are manic places at times, full of hot lights, cables scattered about and empty stomachs waiting for lunch-- all sorts of things can happen. And yes, most sets have designated first aiders on site. But that doesn't stop your responsibility, as a human, to NOT stand around and be completely useless when the horrible happens.

But, as I was saying-- this applies to everything. If you work in an office, a supermarket, or even if you're a homeless person. Do you really want to be completely helpless when someone around you collapses? I want to at least know that, if someone has an epileptic seizure, or a heart attack, or they break a bone-- I want to be able to provide the basics, at least until someone who knows what they're doing comes along.

I'm sure most of you are probably better equipped in these situations than I am. But then, I know I'm a pretty average person; so I'm assuming there are many people like me, who wouldn't have the foggiest idea what to do in these situations. Let's go and enrol in some kind of first aid courses right now. Let's be more responsible. Let's value those around us with a little more respect. It's literally a life and death matter.

Care to share?

Thursday 24 September 2009

Money and Old People.

So I booked a flight to New York, as many of you know. Problem is, I don't yet have accommodation. Even more of a problem, is that I don't have any money. It's entirely my fault as I have not been doing enough projects that yield immediate income. Not only that, but I am owed a heap of money from various places and they have yet to pay up. These are from both industry and non-industry sources. And now I'm kind of laughing, because the way I described that makes me sound like a drug dealer.

So I need money. Like, right now. Maybe I'll do an old fashioned car boot sale like these fine ladies below.

Although I can't quite figure out what's for sale -- is it the Grandma sitting in the middle? Maybe I could sell old people. That's it. Okay. If any of you have access to any old people who may be worth money, please let me know -- and I shall sell them.

Old people aside - I welcome your ideas for how to become swiftly rich.

Care to share?

Tuesday 22 September 2009

Let Obama Be Bartlet.

Isn't President Obama great? I'm not a political person, and I'm not even American. But I find the way Obama is running things pretty inspiring. In fact, like many people, I only really got interested in American Politics due to the pretend version; namely; 'The West Wing.'

And I've been obsessively watching it again recently. I'm currently watching Season 4. And a big part of it is President Bartlet's (Martin Sheen) campaign for re-election. His aides get into heated debates about how Bartlet should run his campaign. Toby Zeigler (Richard Schiff) wants it to be about smart. The idea that there's nothing wrong with being the smartest kid in the class. Even though, as Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) tells him, nobody liked the smartest kid in the class back in school.

The episodes in this early part of Season 4 were really inspiring. They were, quite simply, about reaching potential - they were about Bartlet being Bartlet. If he was going to be seen as arrogant and elitist anyway, then he might as well go out there and prove he knows what he's talking about. Prove that he knows how to read, rather than hiding it.

I'm up to the point now where Bartlet has just had his Presidential Debate with Governor Richie, the Republican Nominee for President. It's riveting stuff--- watch this. Amazing.

What made The West Wing exciting for me, was the idea that leaders could actually be, not only engaged in what they were working towards, but human, too-- people who were passionate and exciting. And most of all, that they could inspire change in other people. We don't have that in the U.K. We've not had that in my life time. I mean, look at the fella..

Anyways, this blog was meant to be focusing on America and I got a little off track. Bartlet made us believe, not only that the world could be better, but that we could be inspired to care about it. And that's part of the problem. I like to think of myself as an independent thinker, but I'm not as much as I would like to think. I need the leaders of the world to inspire me if I'm going to want to walk to the end of my road to vote when needed. If I'm going to care about climate change, crime, education, etc... well, I kind of need the leaders to take me there. Don't get me wrong, I care about climate change. If we do nothing, we all die soon, I get it. But despite knowing this, I just sat here with all the lights on eating a biscuit. It takes someone inspiring to make me want to change the way I live.

Bartlet was that guy. But he was a million miles away from what real people are like. It was actually quite depressing; when an episode of 'The West Wing' would finish, I'd flick over to the news channel to see them wheel out George Bush for one of his depressingly hilarious speeches, the likes of which, I don't need to repeat again. Okay, maybe I will.

And then, Obama came along. I was lucky enough to be in New York on election day last year. The energy was incredible. Everyone was out to vote and there was a palpable change in the way people were talking to each other, the way people were feeling about their country. It was inspiring.

Now, as I said. I don't really follow politics, so I am kind of full of crap, I admit. But I'm still excited. Excited by Obama. Whether you agree with his policies or not. Whether you think public healthcare is good, or whether you think he's secretly a Communist-Nazi creating death panels (seriously guys?), it's still exciting. Exciting because, he's getting people talking. I mean, he's even getting the Israeli's and Palestinians talking.

I like the transparency of it. I like that the Whitehouse have a YouTube channel. I like that by looking at it you can see what President Obama is doing every single day. I like that they haven't disabled comments. So whether you want to say "I love you Obama!" or "you're a dumb [insert idiotic racist phrase]!" you have the chance to. I like that. I like that people aren't getting marginalized-- they're getting a voice.

But most of all - I like that the dream of President Bartlet is truly alive. I like that we have (well, you have, I still have Gordon Brown) a President who is engaged. That it's a President who stands up for the smartest kid in the class..

"When the president's got an embassy surrounded in Haiti or a keyhole photograph of a heavy water reactor or any of the fifty life-and-death matters that walk across his desk every day, I don't know if he's thinking about Immanuel Kant or not. I doubt it. But, if he does, I am comforted, at least, in my certainty, that he is doing his best to reach for all of it and not just the McNuggets. Is it possible we would be willing to require any less of the person sitting in that chair? The low road? I don't think it is."
-Josh Lyman

People have always hated blacks, been scared by Muslims, blamed Jews, wondered why white people rap, etc etc-- but what I like is that, even though, they still do hate blacks, run away from Muslims and blame the Jews-- at least now, because of this man called Obama, they are beginning to ask themselves why. And by asking why, you begin to grow, you begin to learn about yourself and about other people. You begin to see everybody else for exactly what they are -- which is just like you.

So, yeah. I don't even follow politics. But, I can't help but do something I never did before-- which is occasionally read up on what he's doing, read one of his speeches, watch the WhiteHouse YouTube channel, etc. Finally-- there is someone on the world stage who cares about things. It's just like TV.

"I was watching a television program before, with a kind of roving moderator who spoke to a seated panel of young women who were having some sort of problem with their boyfriends - apparently, because the boyfriends had all slept with the girlfriends' mothers. And they brought the boyfriends out, and they fought, right there on television. Toby, tell me: these people don't vote, do they?"

-President Bartlet.

Care to share?

Great Advice From Tom Hanks on how to survive as an actor, using perseverance.

A few years back I was watching Tom Hanks on The Actors Studio with James Lipton. I think it's from around 1999. Hanks, as always, was funny, profound and interesting. But it was this last question, from a young actor, which really showed the most wisdom. I typed this out; and I'm glad I did, because the videos of this interview keep getting taken down from YouTube. Luckily, it's a great thing to read off the page.

Young Actor to Tom Hanks - "I was wondering if you could impart some knowledge about the nuts and bolts of the industry.. just the grey reality of what that entails, and how do you really survive?"

Tom Hanks - "Wow - well you're really talking about perseverance. Um, and it's sometimes perseverance in the face of great adversity. And the adversity always is, 'I'm not working.' That's hard, man. It's hard to get past-- look I'm not in a play, I'm not in a movie. The best I can say is I'm up for a callback on a Danone Yogurt commercial - that's hard in order to have that be the thing that is kind of like defining what you do. There's no trick getting past it, there's no magic thing you can do. But it's like a love affair with someone you're gonna live your whole life with. You have to protect what it is ----- Now, you're talking to a guy; I haven't been out of a job since 1982. I had a fallow year after 'Bosom Buddies' in which I really thought well that's it, I've had my shot. Nothing else is gonna happen for me. And a year unemployed in Los Angeles is like six years unemployed in New York. It is a long friggin' time. And you think you've got a sticker on the back of your car that says "I used to be an actor", it feels that bad some times. But since then, I'm the luckiest man in the world...... The perseverance aspect of it is something that you can define every day and that takes a little bit of discipline - and more than anything else it takes this degree of perseverance that ultimately is not your measure of who you are as an artist but it's a measure of what you are as a professional, and it's HARD - cause there's nothing greater; nothing greater than saying I am a professional actor and I will be till the day I die. So, and that's where it gets tough."

Care to share?

Monday 21 September 2009

A message for you from yourself.

You need to give yourself a pat on the back. Really, what you've done is pretty incredible. I am talking to you. You, that special person who, despite everything, is still working hard to achieve your dream.

Despite having to pick the kids up from school, you are still writing. Despite being flat broke, you're still taking acting lessons. Despite the daily grind of your horrible, monotonous job, you're still directing short movies in the middle of the night. Despite everyone around you believing you are NOT a writer and NOT a director and NOT an actor, you're still going strong. You are still creating things. DO YOU REALIZE HOW AMAZING YOU ARE?
Give yourself a pat on the back. Give yourself some ice cream. Treat yourself to a hooker. Seriously, you're amazing. How can that be? How can it be that after hundreds of people saying "but you're not really doing much with your little films" and despite people who are really important to you saying "It's cute that you're trying to write," despite all those things that would make any sane person scream and want to hide away forever-- you are still here. You are still going on film directing courses, you're still listening to podcasts, and reading film blogs, and trying to turn that idea in your head into something on a page or a screen. You are still doing that.

Have you ever stopped to appreciate that? Let me tell you now, you're winning here. Despite the world doing that thing it does, where it builds these big walls and says "I think you'll find life is lived in this way..." you've managed to climb the wall again and again. Despite the horrible job, the negative people who pop up every time you leave the house, despite it all - you are HERE, RIGHT NOW, agreeing with what I am saying. You have worked your socks off, and you are still doing it.

This might be your 14th short film, it might be your 26th screenplay, it might be your 363rd audition. They may have proved that you are a failure. And they are right. Right up until the time you become a success. You're pretty amazing. You inspire me. You're still going.

You are Steve Martin, eight years into being a stand up comedian, wondering where his audience is. You are Tom Hanks, carrying people's bags into hotels. You are Jack Lemmon, sleeping in abandoned buildings, wondering exactly when it is you're going to get an acting job.

You're amazing.

Keep up the great work.

Care to share?

Thank YOU. Seriously.

It was only a few months ago when I started writing this blog. And yesterday, my google-followers list reached 100, which is amazing to me. That's 100 people who give a shit about what I have to say. This is bizarre to me, as I usually have trouble keeping the attention of my closest friends for more than a sentence. That said, I'm really glad you're here. Add that to the 36 'NetworkedBlogs' followers, the people from the 'Film Blogs' Facebook group and random passers by from the blogosphere.

I've always worried the blog suffers from being a bit schizophrenic, because it doesn't really have an exact focus. Sometimes, I'm giving advice to actors, sometimes I'm interviewing film editors, sometimes I'm rambling on about how much I love Jimmy Stewart. I guess you guys are here because, whatever I'm rambling about, you can see I'm passionate about it. Or maybe you're here because I harassed you and kept demanding you visit. Either way, I'm truly glad you stumbled this way and decided to stick around.

It feels like the beginnings of a little community. There's been competitions, there's been debates, there's been sharing things, and, through the 'Film Blogs Round-Up' project, we've all managed to find a lot of great new blogs and writers. And I think that's the most exciting part. I'll be putting together a round-up again in the next few days as I've come across some really great stuff in the last few weeks.

And I also want to thank you all for not hating me in the last few weeks where I've posted a few fictional stories/weird articles. They're not really in keeping with the film theme, but you haven't shot me down. But then, you're not the shooting down kind.

So, thanks again for being here.


Care to share?

Saturday 19 September 2009

How To Sneak Things Into The Cinema

Ever since I was a kid, I've been a master of sneaking things into the cinema. We could never afford the movie popcorn and sweets (or candy, for you Americans), so we'd go off to the nearest shops and stock up on goodies. Movie theatres have always had policies against this; but luckily kids have always been smarter than cinema employees. It's a skill I've managed to keep ever since. I should warn you though; by sneaking things in I am talking about food, drink, and occasionally people, I am not talking about weaponry, farmyard animals, or fridge-freezers, although I believe it is possible.

There are numerous techniques, which I will outline below.

1. The Good Ole' 'Stuff-It-Under-Your-Top' Technique.

This is the classic technique which is used by most people. Quite simply, you buy what you want to buy- and then hide it in pockets, under clothing, in shoes... basically anywhere where it might fit. If you are going to do this, I thoroughly recommend taking an obese person or big-breasted girl with you, as staff very rarely have the guts to say "Are you hiding something under that top?" -- because then your burger-eating/breastily-gifted friend can use the "are you calling me fat/are you staring at my boobs?" card. I should warn you, there isn't an actual card for this, it's just an expression.

If you don't have any obese or big-breasted friends, they can often be found passing by in the street, and it's quite possible they enjoy movies.

2. The 'That Person Over There Said It Was Okay' Technique.

This is very simple. When you enter the cinema, you check out the name tags of workers on the way in. It's best to find somebody who looks like they have authority. These often are women in their 50's who look like war criminals, they have names like 'Anne' and 'Magda.'

When you get to the final check point and hand over your ticket, there is likely to be a seventeen year old who's a bit of a jobsworth. He delights in saying "Sorry, you can't bring food in here, it's against policy." When you respond with, "A woman called Magda said it's okay," you will see him visibly begin to shake, as his eyes fill up with fear. Not only is he scared of the Nazi-like manager, he assumes no customer would ever attempt such a ruse, and will promptly let you in.

3. The 'I've Got A Disease' Technique.

In recent years, I've managed to build a bit of a conscience and don't really use this technique any more. But basically, what you do is demand that you can take your specific foods in because you have some kind of illness. Diabetes is a common one to use, as most people know, vaguely, it has something to do with sugar, so they just assume you know what you're talking about and let you in with your fizzy cola bottles and yards of liquorice. Another common thing used to be to make up illnesses-- but often you find that the low-paid staff also happen to be at university studying to become doctors. This is troublesome as not only do they diagnose you on the spot, but they also delay appointments by up to four hours.

4. The 'Supreme Confidence' Technique.

This is the technique I use the most today. It's basically just positive thinking at work. You believe you are entitled to take your food in. You put your mind in a position where it is an absolute right. It's a human right. You make up the rules. You are the KING OF THE CINEMA. This technique is great as you can literally hold your goods in plain view of all staff--- but you are so freewheelin' and happy about what you're doing that staff will assume there is something special about you, or they'll assume you have a special reason why you're allowed to bring your pizza and coke into the building.

Make sure you are completely confident and happy throughout. When you get to the final checkpoint, happily hand your ticket over and say to the dude, "Hey man, how's it going?" - as you chirpily pay interest in him and exude complete confidence, there is no way he's going to turn you away!

5. Except for the times he does turn you away.....

And it's all your fault. A little drop of confidence, where you just take your eye off the game for a split second is all it takes. "Sorry, but you can't take your food in," is his standard reply. Now, there are many ways to deal with this. I've tried them all, from "Okay, after the movie - you can take my girlfriend out, how's that? Now will you let me in.." to "Why the fuck do you care about these stupid fucking rules when you're earning £5 an hour? What difference does it make?" to the truly lame, like "I'm just taking it in, I'm not going to eat it..."

But, after much trial and error, I've found the best way is to show innocence. "Oh, I didn't realize. I'm sorry..." -- the dude will then reply, half-guiltily, with "sorry, it's not my rules." Then, what you do, is stand about two metres away from him and begin eating your food. As you do, you start up a conversation with him, ask him what he's studying, what he does in his spare time, what movies he's seen recently. This is like a complete magic act, because as soon as you do, the cinema dude will say, "okay, look, you can go in. Just this once, but in future..." And then you're in with your food, drink, three course meal, everything! You get to take it all in. Magic.

6. The 'Extremely Hot Girl' Technique.

This is a superb technique that works, without fail, every single time. The problem is, you need a really hot girl. In principle, this is fine, but whenever I try to take one to see a movie they are unfortunately "really busy" or "taking time off from movie-going right now." However, sometimes I do get them to come with me, which coincidentally tends to be when my friend Jed, the guy with big muscles, comes along too.

What you do is this: you give the girl everything you want to take in. Guys who work in cinemas tend to be dweeby looking, under-sexed geeks. The only girls that talk to them are their sisters. The hot girl goes up to the lamest looking geekster ticket-dude she can find and says, whilst touching his arm, "I really need to take this food in to my seat. I know I'm not allowed, but I really want to. Can you help me out just this one time? Do you have the power to do that, to help me out?" and then she touches his arm again and smiles.

Seconds later, you will all be inside with the food, and the geek will have probably given her free popcorn and drinks too.

In Summary...

There are countless techniques that can be used for sneaking things into the cinema. I'd love to hear things you've tried over the years -- whether they succeeded or failed. It might also be an idea to develop new ideas, as we continue to outsmart the dull looking cinema staff.

Care to share?

Thursday 17 September 2009

A Quick Five Question Interview With 'One Eyed Monster' Writer/Director Adam Fields

Last year, composer Adam Fields (Dawson's Creek, Beautiful People) set out to make his debut feature film, the underrated 'One Eyed Monster,' starring porn legend Ron Jeremy. I've been trying to think of clever ways to summarize what the film is, but I think it's best if you watch the trailer.

This is the first in an occasional series, where I'll be asking Director's five questions about their work.
A Writer/Director's first film is often something deeply personal, could that be said for 'One Eyed Monster'?
God, I hope not. :-) The truth is, I consciously chose a subject that was the opposite of deeply personal. Something so simple and clear in how it should be put together that it would be easy for me to make. I think if it had been something personal, there would have been too much pressure to make it perfect.

What was the most difficult thing about directing this film?
The time constraint. A very low budget forced me to direct this in 18 days, and that forced me to move faster than I would have liked.

Are there any mistakes you made during production, that you wouldn't make the next time around?
I think I would have shot more cutaways. Again, I think time didn't really allow that, but had I planned more, I could have shot a series of random cutaways each day and I think that would have opened the film up a bit more. On a first film, I think directors tend to think about only exactly what is needed to tell the story. That's definitely a good, economical way to think, but if you watch a lot of great movies, there are always cutaways to other characters' reactions, or just actions, even if they're not integral to the scene, and it just helps the world of the film feel more natural and less "play-like".

What was it like writing with your brother?

I actually wrote this with two brothers, and it was extremely fun. We started with a long day of spitballing ideas, including every joke we could think that made us laugh. Then we focused on the plot structure, and figured out how each person would eventually meet their fate. After that, Jordan went off by himself to concentrate on the dialogue, eventually bringing us back a solid first draft that Scott and I could help polish.

What can you tell us about your directing style?
With one film under my belt, I'm not sure I have a style yet. I can say unequivocally that my favorite part of directing was working with the actors, and helping them to deliver the right tone for this film.

One Eyed Monster is available now on DVD.

Care to share?

Wednesday 16 September 2009

A Story About Tea Addiction.

Last week I posted a short story about Understanding Your Dreams which to my great surprise many of you found better than terrible, so I hope you don't mind my indulgence if I post one more short story today, and then I promise to get back to the reason you are all here, films. This is an article about the tragic and often misunderstood problem sweeping many parts of the world, but is particularly prominent here in the U.K.

A Short Story By The Kid In the Front Row - Understanding Tea Addiction

Tea addiction is generally classed as one of the least bothersome addictions. The main signs of tea addiction are headaches, brown teeth and dressing like your grandparents. Those who have been inflicted with tea obsession often feel helpless due to how unversed medical professionals are on the subject, as they normally say to patients, "let's have a cup of tea and discuss this."

Tea is the third most common reason for not sleeping, coming in slightly behind depression, and the main reason - that it is not yet bedtime. People often think that people addicted to the caffeine in tea don't sleep well as they drink too late at night, whereas actually it is usually because the person is laying awake anticipating the morning's first cup of tea. This can lead to problems, especially if you wake up to find you are all out of tea bags.

Tea can be drunk with sugar, with sweeteners, and with relatives, who will often complain, "this is too strong for me." Tea is also versatile as it can be consumed in any situation, although I rarely drink it during sex - but that's probably because I've never had it.

Tea is great in all situations. Often after good news people will say, "lets have a cup of tea." It has also been used over the years during arguments, mainly because a fresh cup of tea can cause major burns if poured directly onto a moaning partner. Tea has also been customary at funerals over the years, although in recent years there has been debate as to whether there is any justification for causing major burns to corpses.

After the success of the AA for alcoholics, many people who were addicted to tea joined the TA, but were left baffled when their first assignment was a 9 month stay in Afghanistan. Of course, after realizing the TA was actually the Territorial Army, they instead set up Teaholics Anonymous, a place where groups of people of from all backgrounds can sit around discussing their experiences. Tea is strictly forbidden, so members tend to bring strong alcoholic beverages. Things get very confusing on every third Sunday of the month as the AA and TA have to share a hall, and members often claim to belong to a different group than they came in with.

Farmers in some parts of Africa have been blamed for the epidemic of tea addiction. Harold Frumbleby, Director of Purchases at Starbucks said, "Ethiopian farmers make their tea available for less than $0.02 per cup." He went on to claim, "this is why we charge $2.45 per cup, to stave off buyers from being driven to addiction by those careless Ethiopians." World Leaders praised Starbucks and other big coffee chains for continuing to extort prices by up to 7995%, and believed it would save the Western World from tea addiction. President Obama is rumored to be planning a "War On Caffeine," but he may cave on the decaf option.

In Summary - all I can really do is to advise caution and moderation. You also must not drink tea whilst operating heavy machinery, as this may lead to spillages. Tea can also cause staining of the teeth, which is why tea has been banned in Hollywood since the mid-nineties.

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Tuesday 15 September 2009

Woody Allen Oscar Speech for New York City.

I wish he still did stand-up. It's amazing seeing this, as you can see him putting his stand-up writing skills to good use, something he hasn't had to do in about forty years.

I'm looking forward to seeing his new movie, 'Whatever Works,' it's great to see him working in NYC again.

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Monday 14 September 2009

used to take the subway up to houston and 3rd, i would wait for you and I'd try to hide.

it's dawning on me that i head for an extended trip to new york in just over a month. it also dawned on me that i was not in the mood for using capital letters in this post, although it wasn't so much a dawning as it was just a decision i made. so i thought for today at least i would capitalize on using lower case lettering.

it also dawned on me, as it is a day of dawning, that i am yet to decide upon any accommodation or a distinct plan of action for my time there. this doesn't concern me, as it's exactly what i did last year and it ended up turning out pretty good. last year i did a bit of helping out on shoots, and shot a little short film myself. this time, i am more interested in sitting around in cafe lalo writing a feature. writing a great nyc film, in a month, whilst sitting around in cafes. that sounds like a good idea. of course, i won't just sit around in cafes. occasionally i will lay horizontally, depending on how busy they are. i also must head to caffe reggio for a strawberry yogurt, which is extremely delicious. one thing that amuses me about caffe reggio is how it states on the menu that there is a minimum order of one item per person.

i found this annoying, as i usually go into cafes, order absolutely nothing, and then leave a 20% tip.

i am definitely going to visit the museum of moving image in queens again. i spent a day there walking around by myself last time. although, maybe i was with someone as i'm pretty sure i was having long conversations whilst there? maybe i was talking to myself. maybe i just thought i was. or maybe i just think i went to the museum but actually didn't. in fact, if that is true -- maybe i didn't go to new york at all. maybe i've never been. maybe i'm not going next month. now i'm confused.

anyways, if you happen to know of anyone in new york who rents rooms cheaply to anonymous bloggers, do let me know. also, if you know anybody who works in any movie theaters who can be bribed into letting me see cheap/free movies, then please let me know. this is of course, a bit ridiculous of me, as the bribe fees are normally far larger than a month's worth of movie watching.

new york, new york - here i come. if any of you have any fun ideas of things for a writer/director/producer/blogger/obsessive tea-drinker to do in NYC, please let me know.

Care to share?

Sunday 13 September 2009

Kids In The Front Row, Complaining About Neck Pains

A few weeks back I asked, "Why Are You A Kid In The Front Row?" and got some great responses. I had three books to give away, so I have three winners.

One of them, is a screenwriting blogger, Michelle Goode. I couldn't resist giving her a prize after she went to effort of writing a poem. Not only that, but the poem was brilliant! Here's an excerpt:

"I am a kid in the front row
Because I get that fluttery feeling before it's about to start
and get sucked into the story as it latches onto my heart
all the while immersed in that buttery popcorn scent
until I find myself wondering where all the time went"

Another winner is Emma Robertson, from Australia, who's excitement and passion for film is plain to see:

"I am extremely in touch with my inner-child & Films always bring this out in me. Making me feel highly energised and more & more IN LOVE with Films & Film Making with every Film that I see. Yes, that's me...always FALLING IN LOVE (again) with MOVIES! It is for ALL of these reasons and many more that I believe I AM THE KID IN THE FRONT ROW!"

The final prize goes to Heather Parks, an actress; who finished her great email with;

It takes thirst for knowledge and a listening ear. Now, I've learned I can't acquire the knowledge I need if I'm sitting in the back row. And the view may be a bit skewed if I play it too safe (near the emergency exits) at the side. So I'm the kid in the front row because to me, it's the only place to be.

Thanks to all who entered, I loved receiving your emails.

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Friday 11 September 2009

Steven Spielberg is remaking 'Harvey' - This had better be the greatest film of all time.

So, Steven Spielberg is remaking 'Harvey.'

And I really hope he knows what he's doing.

'Harvey' is magic. It's one of those rare films that isn't just about words and acting and what you see. It has that something underneath it that makes it magic. Like 'The Kid,' like 'The Apartment,' like 'Shawshank Redemption.' It's a film that goes beyond being just something well made. It is a movie that I never thought would get remade. Just like one of those buildings you can never knock down, because it's just too amazing.

"Hey everyone, let's go to Egypt and build new pyramids! We have more money now. We can make them out of metal! They'll be great!". NO, they wouldn't be great. The new 'Harvey' won't be great.

Okay, maybe it will be great. Maybe remakes can be awesome, it's just that I've never seen one. Well, I've seen some good films that have been remade out of decent older stuff. But when it comes to the TRUE classics, like the outrageously PERFECT 'Harvey' - you wonder why they're doing it.

Specifically, you wonder why Steven Spielberg is doing it. Spielberg, a man who's been at the forefront of black and white film preservation, a man who loves old cinema as much as anyone in the world. If he wants a film about an invisible rabbit, I'll write him one. Or, fuck, just remake 'Donnie Darko' -- but why oh why does he need to remake the original 'Harvey'?

I can understand some random producer hack wanting to remake the film. It's a great idea, it could do very well commercially. I just don't understand why one of the geniuses of cinema would even think of remaking it. And yes, I know, I read what everyone is saying, about how 'oh, he's remaking the play, not the film.' That really makes no difference here.

Rumours abound that Tom Hanks will be filling the shoes of Elwood P. Dowd. Hanks is my favourite actor. Spielberg is one of my heroes. But I don't want this to happen. If 'Harvey' gets remade then before we know it all of the old films will be up for grabs. We'll be going to see 'Alien Versus The Odd Couple,' 'Some Like It Hot 3D,' it'll be horrific.

I want us to be more careful. If we are really and truly out of ideas, then let's just shut the film industry down. That's it, thank you, goodnight. Let's end all filmmaking and instead people can just sit in empty cinemas and update their Facebook statuses. 'Harvey' is magic. Leave it alone.

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Wednesday 9 September 2009

Understanding Your Dreams - A Weird Short Story.

A Short Article By The Kid In The Front Row

Dreams are strange. People who like country music are also strange, but have been subject to less scientific research. My personal experiences on this matter have indeed been noteworthy. In fact, the content of my dreams were once planned to be the basis of a 20,000 word scientific study, but the scientist instead opted to do a Twitter update only. Dreams, we have long been told, are an absolute mystery. However, through my own studies, I can reveal they tend to happen at night and when sleeping.

I once fell asleep whilst wearing my glasses. This was unfortunate as for the next few hours I dreamt I was waiting for a consultation with my local optician. I only realized I was dreaming when a large gorilla walked in and praised me for being a great single Mother and an award winning acrobat. The amusement was short lived as he immediately charged me $50 for a contact lens examination.

Carl Jung, Freud and numerous other dead people believe dreams are the doorway to learning about our subconscious wants and desires. If this is true, why do I keep dreaming about Stephen Hawkins giving me foot massages? To get to the bottom of all this I enrolled in a three year psychology degree. This went great until three days before graduation when I woke up in a sweat; and realized it had all been a dream.

I have since learned that most of the time you can tell if you are in a dream because things seem completely unrealistic. For example, I can always tell I'm dreaming if people are polite, a girl remembers my name, or George Bush completes a full sentence.

In recent years there has been a distinct lack of research into what happens when people go to sleep at night, but Dr. Ralph Piffell from Oregon, USA, is determined to bring the matter into the public consciousness. The last heavily-funded study into the effects and meaning of inner dream life was in 1967 in Neuschwanstein, Germany. Unfortunately the study had to be called off as participants were found to be drowsy and close to nodding off. Dr. Piffell says that he dreams of the day they can do another in depth study. But he also admitted to dreaming of naked Albanian wind-surfers joining him for barbecues, so is fraught when it comes to deciding which dream to bring to life.

One of the main ways dreams are analysed is by looking closely at the meaning of symbols and objects within the visions witnessed during sleep. For example, if you dream about pasta, that is actually your subconscious desire for sexual activity in your life. However, if you find yourself dreaming about sex you are more than likely to wake up with an urge for penne pasta.

One of the most common concerns is that of the recurring nightmare. Throughout centuries the greatest minds have done their best to find ways to stop them. Only now are they realizing the simplest way of halting them, which is by not sleeping.

In summary, there is still much to learn about dreaming. The good news is that many myths are now being debunked. For many years people believed that to die in your dream meant that you would die in real life. It turns out this is true, but often the death does not happen until 50, sometimes 70 years later. Another key thing to remember when looking into dream interpretation, is that it is not completely accurate. For example, if you look up the meaning behind your dream about a piece of cheese; it is often difficult to tell exactly which type of cheese it was in the dream. This type of thing is of major importance, as dreaming of mature farmhouse cheddar cheese means you are coming to a new, positive stage in your life, whereas dreaming about moist blue cheese indicates you are likely to have limbs amputated if you ever travel to Scandinavia. It is for reasons like this that I strongly recommend only dreaming in supervised situations.

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Tuesday 8 September 2009

Joe Leonard - Film Director Interview

Some of you may remember me excitedly posting a film trailer a few weeks back. It was the trailer for a new film called 'How I Got Lost,' an independent feature about two disillusioned, twentysomething New Yorkers; written & directed by Joe Leonard.

I was intrigued to find out how such a personal project came to fruition, and how an independent movie can, in this day and age, find film festival recognition, as well as distribution. Luckily, Joe Leonard provides us with some fascinating and insightful answers.

'How I Got Lost' seems like it's come from a very personal place. How did the project come about? What inspired you to write it?

Yeah, it's a pretty personal project, which is what I love about it. A lot of it came from a certain time in my life when I was living in the East Village trying to figure out where I fit and what I was looking for. I came up with the title early on, and I was trying to write a film that captured a feeling. It was after 9/11, and none of us wanted to leave the city. But at the same time, it was a hard place to be.

That's when I read "The Sun Also Rises" for the first time. It felt like it had just been written. It felt like it could be me and my friends. So I was inspired by that.

I think you can really tell that the film comes from a Writer/Director, your voice is all over the film. Do you worry that will get lost if you start doing bigger-budget projects, funded by the studios?

That's a fun question, and one I should test out! Realistically though, my interests as a writer and a director tend towards independent, lyrical films. I'm interested in people more than plot. I don't have much control over that, as much as I'd like to.

Right now I'm working as an editor on "Glee," a new show on Fox this fall, and I think it has already taught me a lot about working on bigger-budget projects and making strong decisions. It's been an amazing experience, and terrific after finishing "How I Got Lost." It doesn't hurt in this case that it is an incredibly creative show, or that I work with incredible people.

Do you think there's a place, commercially, for films that are more interested in people than plot? I'm like you, these are the types of films I crave-- it just seems unfair to me that someone who does really moving work like you might struggle to get films funded and to make a great living, whereas a filmmaker making 'Scary Movie 9' prospers?

I do think there's a place commercially for good stories that are character-based -- but it's a hard business, and the more arty you get, the less likely you are to find your way into a big budget or big return. I do know that actors want to do good work, though -- and that's an ace in the hole. Jake Gyllenhaal doesn't necessarily want to do "Scary Movie 9." So if your script is good enough and he gets his hands on it somehow, I like to think that you have a shot at making an ambitious character movie. Then suddenly, if Jake Gyllenhaal is involved, raising money and finding distribution works with an extra set of zeros.

In terms of survival and success, you have to define it for yourself. There are quicker ways to strike it rich. As a filmmaker, you have to figure out how you can make a living to survive long enough to make your movies. I stumbled into editing, and it's actually helped me a lot as a filmmaker. So I actually feel lucky that way.

I've read that you won an award; and that grant formed a big part of the film's budget. Could you tell us a little bit about that experience and what it did for you?

Well, it was a make or break point for the film. I had written the first draft in 2002, moved to Hollywood, shown it to everyone who would look at it, and gotten essentially nowhere. But I couldn't give up on it. The more I faced rejection, the stronger I felt about the material. The more I heard other people's takes on the project, the more it came into focus. I started asking questions when I hit each wall to try to figure out a way to make adjustments, so that the next time I would have outflanked their concerns. It was a tough project because it wasn't very structured, so I had to back my way into a sequence that would feel structured. So it was a great service, hearing "no." I was persistent. I applied to the Sundance Lab -- 3 times. And to the IFP LA (now Film Independent) Labs -- 5 times. Never got in. I did get into a lab through IFP NY with Scott Macaulay, which was a great resource. And then one day I got a mailing from NYU -- where I went to film school. There was a grant set up for filmmakers making their first feature. The Richard Vague Production Grant. You had to send in the script, and a budget, and a proposal -- and you had to fly to New York to pitch it if you were a finalist.

The first year I was a finalist, I didn't win. But I thought about it afterwards, about the questions they asked me after my pitch, and about how it could be better. So I went back to the drawing board, beefed up the budget in certain areas, hired some producers, and pitched everyone I knew in the month leading up to the meeting to practice. The day I got the grant, I felt like Muhammad Ali. Now I was able to lay all of the groundwork for the film -- and I had a ribbon to point to proudly, saying someone important believed in me. That was all the permission I needed, and I didn't ask for any more for the rest of the production. We ended up raising all of the money privately, with the most incredible set of investor/producers you could hope for.

What was the budget?

We made it for under a million bucks with a non-union crew and a SAG cast. Most of the money went to our 4 week shoot, to pay our amazing cast and crew, to renting trucks, and to getting people from New York City to St. Louis.

I like what you said, 'I had a ribbon to point to proudly, saying someone important believed in me.' As independent filmmakers, I think we can often go for an awfully long time on self belief, never really having the proof that anybody cares what we have to say. Had you ever felt that?

You're right. We have to be pretty hard-headed, and in this case I think that's a good quality. You have to have that us versus the world mentality. And if you know you have something to make you've just got to stick to your guns. On the other hand, you don't want to shut yourself off to criticism, or to collaboration. It's a tough balance to strike. But being self-motivated, and believing in yourself -- you can get far on those fumes. It's worth noting that actual encouragement (from teachers, friends, parents, film organizations, festivals) is still the actual fuel. Mom, dad, thank you! My list is actually quite endless.

The film has garnered a lot of recognition at various film festivals. How important are these for the film, and for you as a Director?

Well, similar to the grant, the festival exposure has been great for us. What we're trying to do now is build an audience and build awareness of the movie. Each time I can post on my blog or Facebook page that we've gotten into a new fest, or won this or that award, we gain some momentum. It's sort of like navigating New York by following the walk signs at each intersection. We know basically where we're headed, and we just don't want ever to have to stop.

As a director, festivals are just fun. People get to see the movie. You've already done the work. I always get worried about things like the projector quality or the sound levels. Once I've relaxed about that, or given up on it, it's a blast.

How do you decide which festivals to enter?

Well, we had a list. The theory is that you go for the "important" ones first, then trickle down to the regional fests. This is a great theory, but we finished our movie after Sundance and Tribeca -- where we were rejected based on our rough cuts.

My theory is that theories are just... theories. Good movies should get into good festivals. I look at the festivals and I try to track their reputation, but I don't think there's any point in not applying to a festival because it isn't on the highest tier. At this point in the game, I am most interested in how filmmaker friendly they are. I also sort of look at our festival run as our theatrical release -- though we are planning a theatrical release this Winter as well. So I apply to festivals in places where I imagine folks might be who would like our movie. Places like Austin, and Chicago, and Portland. New York and LA, San Francisco.

My favorite fests, based on the screenings we've had and where I've screened shorts before, are Dances With Films, Austin Film Festival and the St. Louis Film Festival.

If I have a short film I want to get into festivals, would you recommend focusing on the main ones or just sending them to absolutely everywhere? And would a bigger festival want to screen something that's just be screened in a little film festival in Nebraska?

With a short I don't think your premiere status really matters. I'm no expert, but I'd advise sending it to fests that you really want to go to. Fest applications can be a huge waste of money if you send it everywhere. Apply to your regional fests, apply to your dream fests, and apply to one or two that you hear great things about. That's my advice.

Why did you decide to shoot on the RED camera? How was the experience for you and the DP?

There was an economic reason. We wanted to shoot a high production value arty movie on 35mm lenses, but we didn't have the budget to do it the way we wanted to. But the real reason: we were excited about it. It fit the motto's on the door of our production office in Brooklyn: "No Surrender," and "ambition beyond our means."

We had a great experience. We tested it a little... not much. Chris Chambers, my amazing DP, did a beautiful job of adjusting to it and creating some amazing images. And my editors Sarah Broshar and Sam Mestman (who was kind of our RED guru, and also our colorist), designed a practical workflow. We had no real problems.

You worked with a really incredible crew, full of talent and experience-- how did you pull them all together?

I had the best crew in New York City in April of 2008 -- fucking (pardon me) amazing. I found them working on projects over the years. I collected them as I went along, because I knew I was going to make this movie. Chris Chambers and I shot two films together. Jared Parsons and Sam Mestman produced films with me going back to our NYU years. I met Massoumeh Emami working on a film by Danny Leiner called "The Great New Wonderful." I just did my best to find talented people, I gravitated toward them, and try to come up with an excuse to work with them. Like JR Hawbaker, our costume designer and one of my favorite people in the world who literally created from scratch several dresses for the film. And Lexi Cuesta, who was a jack of all trades MVP on set even when I had totally exhausted and frustrated her. Then Massoumeh brought in some of my favorite new collaborators (everyone who makes movies in New York, by the way, will attest to how incredible Mass is -- as a human being and as a film collaborator). Chris DeAngelis, our co-Producer, was Rainman with a schedule, and remains the only guy I would personally follow into war. And Matt Munn and Katie Akana made me want to be a production designer. Or at least hang out with them and help out however I could (not much). The list goes on. Our gaffer Corey Eisenstein went to high school with me! They were incredible. And the movie is what it is because of their hard work. What it boils down to for me is that I like making movies because I love the people you get to work with. I love that you are in it together, on this crazy journey. And I love how hard it is, and how far everyone gets pushed (including me of course), just as much as I love how fun it is.

Do you have a distribution deal? Are we going to see it on a wider release?

It's up in the air. It's pretty interesting right now. There's been a total collapse of the independent film market in the last year or so, and now everyone is trying to find a new model. I like the Soderbergh model actually -- a simultaneous theatrical, cable, DVD and digital release... There's a whole new landscape now. Internet, VOD, the iTunes store... we are planning to have a DVD distribution deal in place by the beginning of next year. And right now we are pursuing a limited theatrical distribution this winter. We'll see how it goes. It took me five years to make this movie, so I'm going to do everything I can to make sure it gets out there.

You've done what many aspiring filmmakers only dream about. You put a project together and you went out and shot it. What advice can you give to upcoming writers and directors, how do you take that leap to going out there and getting a project made?

I had a film teacher, the documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, who said "if you're a filmmaker, get out there and make a film, every day." It sounds extreme, but I think it's right. I think that's the mindset you have to have. Pick up the camera, of if you're working that survival job, keep a notepad with you. Movies start within you -- unless you're using heavy machinery, let your mind wander. Look for the people you want to work with. It's easier to make a feature with a die-hard collective of ten filmmakers than it used to be. Support each other -- you can't do it on your own. And don't ask for permission... unless it involves fireworks.

Joe, thank you so much for taking the time for this. One last thing. Is there one little piece of advice, or one little nugget of information you could give that might help writer/director's like you who are about to embark on making their first low-budget feature?

Well, keep it in perspective if you can. Making a feature is a long haul, and you want to love your movie and still have a few friends a year or so later when you finally get to your festivals. It's an amazing mountain to climb, but oddly it doesn't feel like what you might think at the end. The joy is really in making the movie -- there's is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But I don't think that makes it any less worth chasing.
I think a great way to end this interview, in fact, a great way to end any interview, with anyone, is to mention Bruce Springsteen. Here, I have the perfect reason. The picture below was taken in the 'How I Got Lost' production office during shooting-- and sums up Joe and his crew's work ethic, and is as good a phrase as any to live by when working long hours on a feature. In the words of Mr. Springsteen...

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Friday 4 September 2009

random thoughts at 1am on a saturday.

District 9 is pretty cool. It's actually not what I expected, but was cool nonetheless. The Purple Rose Of Cairo really is a perfect little film. I am uploading a short film privately to YouTube to get some feedback from people I trust. I'm tired of editing. I think I'm really going to indulge in some Woody Allen films in the next few weeks, I watched 'Hannah & Her Sisters' again today. Michael Caine kind of annoys me in it, but it's an amazing film. Woody really is a genius. I think you should all watch the documentary 'Tyson,' even if you don't like boxing. Diablo Cody is a good person to follow on Twitter. Looking at the analytics for my site, somebody found the site by googling 'is the kid from Home Alone dead?' Rest assured, he isn't. I will be announcing the book winners very very soon. I am going to make a gritty New York film soon. I am also going to write a rom/com, but don't worry nothing too cheesy. I love LoveFilm, what a great idea. (The equivelent of Netflix for most of you), I have some old Ernst Lubitsch films to watch soon, I think it's about time Tom Hanks went back to making special movies, not just mehh movies, I have some really exciting interviews coming up here soon, I need to sleep, I'm up early.

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Thursday 3 September 2009

Recurring Film Nostalgia

One of the best things about this blog has been finding many other people who are just like me. It turns out, I'm not the only Kid In The Front Row. There are a lot of us, and we're filling up the isles. So it gives me great pleasure to be able to hand over the writing reigns today to a guest author, someone who truly embodies the spirit of being a Kid In The Front Row. He writes about something close to my heart, nostalgia.

'Recurring Film Nostalgia' - by Jack Wormell
Film sneaks into our lives in different ways. I grow fond of a film not just for what it is, but because of how we met. Associations sit so strongly in my head that a movie becomes entwined with certain occasions or periods of my life, and a select number of films maiden voyage into my heart was through television. Seeing them beamed out to me from the TV screen for the first time has left them intrinsically connected with a certain period of my life, and, for some strange reason, has reinforced my love of them.

When I was younger, before I owned any DVDs, and only a few videos stood on my bedroom shelf, there were certain films that seemed to be broadcast regularly, as if, after looking at the calendar, the broadcasters exclaimed, ‘We haven’t shown Jaws in three months! What can we free up on Friday night’s schedule? Pronto! Pronto!’ My nostalgia, whether correct or not, tells me these films were always on the weekend, no earlier than Ten PM and usually on BBC 2. They were films of varying quality, but always immediately gripping, films where you could jump in halfway through and grasp what was happening with no trouble (although perhaps this was because I’d seen it about 3 months earlier on the same channel).

Catching Goodfellas a quarter of the way through, round about the Copacabana tracking shot, or finding the opening credits of Undersiege reaching an end, and with a thrill settle in for guns, cooking and Gary Busey cross dressing (Busey, by the way, featured heavily in my childhood, as the king of the supporting part in dubious 90’s films: Underseige, Point Break, Predator 2). Yes, Undersiege seemed to be on TV almost every weekend when I was 14.

So anyway I present to you my little list of films, which repeatedly came into my life through the medium of television, now something I hardly watch, plagued as it is by mediocrity. When I was younger TV acted as a trusted friend, one who exhibited exciting, reliable films for me time and again. Films that, when I look back on it now, I just had to see. I think I would have grown up a different person without the knowledge that every Friday night I could sit down in the comfort of my own home to be further educated in the violence that one giant shark can do in a weekend, or why you must never say ‘Candyman’ five times in front of a mirror, or why the future of mankind rests upon a lippy teen with a knack for breaking into ATM machines (in my memory Terminator 2: Judgement Day was actually on every week. I will stand by this).

Everyone has their own selection, with films of varying quality, as well as those films on video bought by your parents, but that’s a whole ‘nother recollection entirely! Anyway these are my childhood TV films, in no particular order:

Midnight Run
(Bit of a cheat, I think I was a little older when this started recurring on TV, but it was, and is, always on.)
Terminator 2: Judgement Day

I was drawn to these films because of their violence, their dramatic dialogue and their phenomenal music (Terminator 2’s mournful industrial clanging is still one of my favourite movie themes). Since those tender years I may have watched subtler and more intriguing films, films which have become my all time favourites no less, but whenever I find one of the above on TV, I still have to sit down and watch it, hypnotised. I may have it on DVD but I still have to watch it, then and there, because it is being broadcast to the public. And even though there are more obscure films I love which are rarely broadcast, it’s still a special moment when Undersiege or Candyman invade my living room. And I’m pretty sure it has to do with me at the age of 14, sitting in the television’s electric glow.

--Jack Wormell is a filmmaker and writer with a degree in Film & TV. You can also read his poetry at http://hitthegroundweird.blogspot.com/

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Wednesday 2 September 2009

'The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus' Review

When Heath Ledger first appears on screen, he's hanging by a rope on London Bridge, dead. In the minutes that follow, a passing travelling circus act, the main players in the story, try their best to save him. It's powerful viewing, given that you've been watching for thirty minutes waiting for Ledger to arrive on screen. So when he does finally appear, it's uncomfortable but compelling.

I must first begin by saying, I am not the best person to review this film. It's not my type of film. Just like, if you wanted someone to review the new Sex & The City Movie, you wouldn't ask Quentin Tarantino, it's just not his thing. But then, that's not my thing either. 'The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus' is a film that will undoubtedly leave a bigger mark in filmic history than originally anticipated due to the unexpected death of Heath Ledger. The Director/Co-Writer, Terry Gilliam, found himself in what he describes as an 'unprecedented' position of having a leading actor dead with half of his scenes left to shoot. Due to what can only be described as a stroke of good fortune, or fate, the scenes that were left to be shot gave Gilliam a way of finishing the film and putting it together in a way that allows for the same character to be played by different actors. To go into detail about this would perhaps cross over into spoiler territory, so I'll leave it at that for now.

The most remarkable thing about the film is how full of ideas it is. The film is, by and large, about imagination-- and that's exactly what it has an abundance of. My thinking was, "how the hell did he think of this?" whereas my friend put it more interestingly when he asked me, "what do you think he was smoking?"

The problem for me is that a creative mind and ideas only go so far by themselves. When I wrote about Charlie Chaplin's 'Modern Times' recently I spoke of how amazed I was by how full of inspired ideas it was. There were hundreds of ideas that were executed, without doubt, by a genius. The same cannot be said about '..Imaginarium,' as sometimes you can't help but feel it's all a bit colourful and creative just for the sake of being different.

The performances in the film are magnificent from all. Lily Cole stands out in a role that Terry Gilliam freely admits was a risk. Aside from a small role in 'St Trinians,' the acting experience of the professional model was limited, and her taking on such a complex role could have backfired. It didn't.

Without question, the thing that fascinates people about this movie is how they dealt with finishing the film without their lead actor. As most of you will know; Johnny Depp, Jude Law and Colin Farrell stepped up to the plate and finished what Heath Ledger started. Did they do a good job? I'll begin by saying that Law and Farrell did more than adequate jobs. There's no reason to get too excited about it -- they stepped in, and did okay. They didn't reach the level that Ledger had set, but they did the job.

Johnny Depp, on the other hand, is an interesting one. Let me first start by saying, I loved him in 'Donnie Brasco.' Aside from that though, for reasons I have no real excuse for, I don't know that much about his work. For reasons of fluke, coincidence, and other random excuses-- he's just not an actor that's particularly on my radar. Don't get me wrong, I've seen 'Pirates..' and a bunch of other stuff, but I don't have much to say about it or his acting. I've always assumed and ignorantly believed he's a cut above the rest but without ever really being a fan or knowing his work.

All that is a build up for me to say: I thought he was fantastic in this movie. He flew into the role of Tony with such ease and subtlety that it was remarkable to see. Depp was also hilarious in it. His scenes got big laughs from me. Laughs that were missing throughout the rest of the film. It could be coincidence, it could just be that the scenes he were in happened to be the funniest ones, but it seems more likely that Johnny Depp is just that much more brilliant than everyone else on screen. And I'm not knocking Heath Ledger, he puts in a strong performance and is entertaining and a joy to watch throughout, but Depp steals the show for me. As much as I'd have loved for Ledger to have bowed out with a work of definite genius in this film it's safe to say his defining role, quite rightly, is The Joker. That's his.

In summary; for all it's grand ideas and innovation, 'The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus,' is a film that I rate as watchable and fun. It's not the greatest film in the world, but you could do a lot worse. Heath Ledger puts in a fine performance and there are definite hints of his undoubted talents, but he is more likely to be remembered for his masterful turn in 'The Dark Knight.'

The film will fascinate you, because of the context. Terry Gilliam and his team deserve major credit for pulling off the film when they would have been excused for calling the whole thing off. It's definitely worth a watch-- even if come the end, you do feel a little underwhelmed.

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