Monday 31 May 2010

Are you famous yet?

I am compiling a complete list of oppressive/ignorant/hurtful/difficult questions that people ask, and once we have all the questions, we can decide on the right answers. I'll get started; let me know more questions in the comments section..

Are you famous yet?
Why are you still working here?
What if you don't make it?
Are you talented enough?
Have I seen you in anything?
Are you rich yet?
Any progress with your films yet?
Are you still trying to make films?
Did you hear about that guy who made a film for $1 and got into Cannes? Have you thought of doing that?
Do you want to hear my idea about a a Sci-Fi film about the devil and death and life and vampires and good versus evil where the devil plays chess and did you know my idea is totally amazing and original?
Why don't you get a real job?
Have you ever thought about making a film that people actually want to watch?

These type of questions are often asked in an innocent way, and are not consciously meant to upset or belittle; but quite often, they do. I have talked to many actors, even quite successful ones who get stumped by the question, "Have I seen you in anything?". The subtext of the question is actually "Well what have you acted in then? Have you made it? Are you earning money?". It's not as friendly as it first appears.

A couple of years ago; I was a producer on a feature film. We had no money, no time; we had nothing at all really. But we did it. A giant achievement. And I remember going for a meal with my friends the day after shooting-- absolutely drained and tired from the hectic two week, 14 hour a day shoot -- and, my friends had decided to have a 'what are you doing with your life?' day. And they hit me with the questions--- and I was absolutely flattened, despite the fact I had just achieved something monumental.

Part of getting experience and succeeding in the industry, and with yourself; is not being oppressed or angered by the questions, the insults, the accusations; etc. I am quite good at this now, but some still irk me from time to time. Anyways, I'd like to build a full list of these types of questions, and then we can look to find the right answers.

This should be fun!

Care to share?

Saturday 29 May 2010

Loving What You Love And That Being Enough.

I've been really getting into Spike Lee films recently. I never used to be such a big fan, I don't think I was ready. I needed to find my way there. In recent times, I've felt a real yearning for something more from my cinema. Something more meaningful and powerful and influential -- I found it -- I found it by discovering (properly) the work of Spike Lee.

I'm loving his films. Fully engaged in all of them--- enjoying them more than any other films in a LONG TIME. And the best part about it? I really have nothing to say about them. They raise interesting questions when I watch them, and I find them often powerful, always entertaining--- but in terms of blogging here, I have NOTHING.

And it's got me thinking about that very thing-- about how we're always expected to justify and explain the things we love. When you meet someone and say "Actually, I loved Jumanji!," you're expected to explain it, to justify it. We don't ever get to just love films, we have to talk about the reasons. This is a normal thing in life but also, of course-- a self-imposed thing when you become a blogger. You don't let yourself watch or read too much without the inner voice saying "hmm, there must be a blog in this..."

Thinking right back to the beginnings of my love for cinema, and even TV; I used to just love stuff without talking about it. I would stay up and watch episodes of 'Steptoe & Son' on BBC2, I'd laugh hysterically, then it'd be time for bed. Just like when I would order as many Tom Hanks films on VHS as I could find; watch them, love them, then carry on with normal life (making my friends laugh and being ignored by girls and having friends laugh because I was being ignored by girls). They were magic times. Back then, enjoying films was easier. I just enjoyed them. It was my thing. As you become more open with your passions and begin to speak up for them, they kind of become everyone's. Or at least that's how it feels.

I don't entirely know what I'm talking about--- but that's kind of what I'm talking about, that it's okay, who says you need to know what you're talking about anyway? Who cares why you love something or why someone doesn't?

I think we often feel like we need to know why we like something, or why we think it's good. I have, in the past, felt a bit silly for not knowing why I like the films I like, or why a particular director is one of my favorites. It often feels like other people can say "Yes, his style is revolutionary and the tone of his films are influenced by Renoir with a hint of Godard; and his early work is reminiscent of 17th Century elephants which are themselves, of course, symbolic of the thriller genre." But for me, meh-- despite being a writer, director and persistent blogger; I haven't got a clue most of the time. In fact, I hardly even remember the films I love the most. I'll tell someone I love, say, Jerry Maguire, and they'll ramble on about a scene I have no recollection of.

I take in films differently. My style/way/dysfunction is that -- I get engrossed, and then I drop a lot of the info. I forget who did what, and where, and how-- if we both see a new movie and then tomorrow night talk about it, when you mention the scene about the scarecrow or whatever, I'll have no clue what you're talking about.

What I am comfortable with now is: knowing that this is completely fine. It's great that some people leave a movie knowing all the plot points or having thoughts about the intricacy of the Mise-En-Scene. For me, all I am left with is either a feeling of having enjoyed the film, or having disliked it--- and possibly having some other emotion attached to it. That's who I am - that's how I take in movies.

What I'm getting at, I think, although I'm not really sure--- is that, there's no rule that you have to be able to justify why something is good, nor does it matter if you don't remember the scene with the snake, and also -- we all value different things. It is often perceived, and/or can feel like you are less than if you can't quantify or explain something. I say: it isn't important, at all.

I remember when I was younger, I was working in a job-- not industry related.. and my boss told someone I'm a filmmaker. The woman he told came up to me and started talking about my filmic aspirations. It was all very pleasant until she said, pointedly, "Why do you want to make films?" and told me that if I couldn't answer, I'd never be a film director. I tried about sixteen times to answer-- each time she wasn't convinced, and neither was I. I couldn't explain it. I went home feeling like a complete failure, no wonder I was working in such a shit job. Of course, the realization came much later that I absolutely love films; watching and making them; and the fact I couldn't put it into words didn't matter. I put my screenplays into words, that's all that matters. Oppressive people trying to make me feel useless really aren't part of my journey. My lack of an explanation may have made that grumpy, wrinkly lady feel good for about seven minutes; but I have gone on to make films, she's gone on to terrorize more young people with big dreams. I'd rather be me.

Let's take some time to get back to loving what we love! And being happy in the knowledge that even if we find it hard to explain sometimes, that's fine, who says it needs to be explained, or make sense. This isn't an application for a grant, this isn't a police statement, it's the things we love -- it's art, it's life, it's the movies. It's you and me. It needs no explanation.

Care to share?

RIP Dennis Hopper 1936 - 2010

Dennis Hopper passed away today, losing his long battle with cancer.

Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now, True Romance, Hoosiers, Speed - to name but a few. The sad fact that we'd all like to avoid is that even actors die. If we're lucky, we're left with a wonderful legacy of performances. For eternity, the world gets to see a part of someone live on forever. With Dennis Hopper, that will definitely be true. I can think of nothing better when someone passes away. RIP.

Care to share?

Is Film School Worth It? Is It Necessary?

If anyone says that you must go to film school, they're wrong. If anyone says you must definitely not go, they are also wrong. There is no right answer. The one thing that matters is that you continually learn and study, and that means different things to different people. Some people learn best by listening to lecturers talk about symbolism, some people learn best by watching Spike Lee films in their bedrooms. Some people learn technical stuff by enrolling in a course, some people learn by volunteering on a film set and saying 'hey, can you show me how you do that technical stuff?'
A few years back I was a camera assistant on a horror film being shot in Ealing Studios. The crew were ALL film school friends. Apart from me. But the fact is: I was still there. Also, ever since I began making short films I've had film school graduates applying to be helpers on my short films, because they struggle to find good work experience. They were qualified filmmakers, my only qualification was when I passed a cycling proficiency test, aged 9. My point is: go to film school or don't go to film school, both are wrong, both are right.

I think that three of the most important things are confidence, knowledge and experience. My knowledge comes from in depth studying of cinema, from pretty much every single day of my life since I was 13, and from producing my own films ever since I was 16. It doesn't come from the classroom. Other people get great knowledge from fascinating film school lectures. Neither are correct, they're just different. Most film school grads I know have great knowledge and know wonderfully complex things I'm clueless about. But that's the good thing about doing it my own way, I set my own studying agenda. I know a Morgan Freeman glance or a Woody Allen line or a Billy Wilder moment better than anyone I know. They don't teach you that. They can't teach you the little tiny moments that excite you about movies. They're your own.

Experience is important. I spent years struggling to understand actors, dealing with ruined locations, fumbling over bad dialogue and being stopped by police for having no permission--- all this came from making short films in my teens without having a clue what to do. Now I'm at the point where I'm fearless come the shoot. I can do it. No problem. That's experience. That's my journey.

However, film school offers wider experiences; the chance to try different equipment, collaborate and build relationships with like-minded people-- and a chance to focus on technical proficiency of the craft. When people come out of film school, they know the names of cameras and they know the shortcut buttons on Final Cut Pro. That's experience.

Confidence is, for me, the main one. When you have the choice of film school, or the industry, or dedicating your life to packing groceries: it really comes down to confidence. If you think film school will make you a confident filmmaker, then that's probably the right place for you. If you think you need to get out there and find your way, then maybe you should. If you think you're ready to produce and direct right now, if you have that confidence, go for it.

There are many people who act confident or display confidence. That's not what I'm talking about... There are directors who act like big shots but get scared on film sets and there are actors who stroll around breezily but deep down are crippled by fears of inferiority... by confident; I mean Spielberg marching into Universal Studios and demanding work, I mean Will Smith constantly determined and certain of his greatness, I mean Chaplin taking to the stage aged 5 and mesmerizing the audience. Those people don't need a syllabus, modules and tutoring, they need to express themselves immediately. If you have unyielding confidence and belief; then you're ready. For me, film school is what many people do to find those things. The alternative route is to learn through trying, and by helping out, and by listening: there is great wisdom to be found by helping on film sets.

Do what feels right. Follow your mind and body in the direction they are pulling you. NO-ONE can tell you whether film school is right or not; both paths can lead you to jubilation or depression, just like anything else.

The one thing I will say, whilst admitting I'm partial to going the industry route--- many, many graduates have said to me, "I wish I'd done what you did," and nobody has ever said "I'm struggling to get work, I wish I'd been to film school." Often, people go to study film simply because they're clueless about how to move forward with their careers. Maybe that isn't a good reason.

Film school is great for making contacts, friends and collaborators-- I missed out on that. I've always been a little jealous of some of my film school peers who seem to take turns to work on each others passion projects, and they all chip in and work together. There's something wonderful about that. Film school gave them that. It's been more gradual for me to find those types of relationships through going it the industry route.

In terms of succeeding in the industry, it really doesn't make a difference. No-one cares. But, paradoxically, in some way-- everyone cares. On both sides of the argument, people often cut each other down. I have often been asked, in an oppressive kind of way, "Er, did you go to film school?" -- it can be an instant way to try and deflate you. Likewise, I've often seen do-it-yourself types feeling superior because they went out and did it and aren't 'Rich film school kids.' This stuff is nonsense; and I hope we can begin to move past it. The only reason to go to film school should be: because you really want to go to film school. Because you find value in it. Whether it will affect or even help your career in film, who knows. It certainly can.

Care to share?

Friday 28 May 2010

Women In The World, Women In Film - GUEST WRITER Zoje Stage.

Women, Men & The Film Industry and The Missing Voice Of Women In Film are two articles that I recently wrote, where I am slowly and gradually opening my eyes to the issue of gender; specifically, gender inequality in the film industry. I must admit that until about two weeks ago, I was unknowingly extremely ignorant of this problem. Whilst I have always been quite sensitive to issues around the subject, i.e., writing things like this; they have generally been mild thoughts that cross my mind and then disappear again. Luckily, that's no longer the case.

ZOJE STAGE is a 2008 Fellow in Screenwriting from the New York Foundation for the Arts. She is writer/director/producer of the upcoming feature film "The Machine Who Loved." Her knowledge of, and passion for, the issue of gender equality in film is amazing. It became very clear to me that rather than have me stumbling forth with little revelations as I learn more; it's a good idea to have Zoje guest write an article-- because what she has to say is informative, fascinating, and important -- and a million miles more eloquent than I could possibly manage.

Women In The World, Women In Film
By Zoje Stage

The subject of women's opportunities in the film industry is of great interest to me, and it is something I have spent a lot of time thinking about. I have a personal mission to help make people aware of gender inequality in general - as an extension of how it relates to the film industry.

There is a huge underlying problem as to why women do not have equal opportunities:

The history of humanity is based on gender inequality and the intentional suppression of women. As time has gone on, things have changed in many parts of the world - creating the illusion that, for the most part, men and women live in an equal-opportunity world. But in reality, this just isn’t the case.

The structures that define human civilization were designed by men, to better, praise, or entertain other men. Do we have any clue how a government would be run if the world had evolved with true gender equality? Do we know what a building might look like? Do we even know how a story might be told?

Everything about how we - men and women - live is dependent upon us all accepting that the male-created models are what we can and should strive for. In addition, there has been a systemic injustice done to women across the centuries in that, even when women were able to accomplish significant things in fields not truly open to them, the historians of the day dismissed their efforts - and subsequently, much of the history of women and their contributions have been erased or forgotten.

Literally, the contributions of women have been ERASED from the collective consciousness of human history!

I encourage you to visit the Brooklyn Museum in Brooklyn, New York. Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party is permanently installed there. Go look at the hundreds of names of important women from throughout the ages and ponder why you have never heard of most of them.

Our collective vision of the world has been seen - and recorded - through men's eyes.

Are you familiar with Alice Guy Blaché?

She was the second person in the history of cinema to make a narrative film. She was a contemporary of the Lumiere brothers. In the early 1900's Alice Guy Blaché - though French born - was one of the highest paid women in America --- as a director and producer!!! As one of the world's first filmmakers she accomplished truly groundbreaking things. Why has everyone heard of D.W. Griffith but not her?

When contemporary filmmakers engage in discussions about why women filmmakers - writers, directors, producers - are not better represented in the film industry, someone (usually male) attempts to explain it away by stating that women simply aren't interested in making the kinds of high concept, blockbuster films that their male counterparts like to make. There is an assumption that women prefer softer stories, girly stories, comedies. In short, there is an assumption that women would prefer to make crap.

In reality, if women filmmakers existed in the EXACT same numbers as male filmmakers you would see proportionally more blockbusters - and proportionally more of everything else. From good films to bad films. You would see women making horror films, thrillers, adventure films, etc. And another thing would happen if women filmmakers existed entirely proportional to male filmmakers:

You would see a broader interpretation of human experience.

People would become familiar with "other" types of stories - the stories of the silenced half of human history. I believe, over time, these stories would be embraced. These stories would become just as ubiquitous as male buddy films and little boy coming-of-age films. Just as toddlers are trained what to eat by their parents, an audience is trained what to like based on what is fed to them. Give them a broader diet and they will embrace a more well-balanced offering!

When murmurings began about the lack of a single woman director in the running for this year's Palme d'Or at Cannes, as usual people failed to really understand the significance. People snarkily suggested that some of us would prefer to see good films by men go unaccepted, or lesser films by women be included. That was not the issue at all. One does not achieve equality by suppressing others, or accepting a lower standard. But when such things happen it gives us all a chance to examine the world we live in.

Here is an example of how people in a decision making position will pick material that is familiar to them - a reverse gender scenario:

In 2009 I won the first Screenplay Live! Screenwriting Competition, and then got to direct my winning script as a staged reading at the 360/365 George Eastman House Film Festival. My script was about a past-middle aged woman and, obviously, it was written by a woman. The presiding judge was a past-middle aged woman. A few weeks ago I attended the reading of the 2010 winning script from the same contest. It was written by a woman, and was about two adult sisters and their aging mother. The presiding judge was the same past-middle aged woman as last year.

The lesson here? Of course we all, if given the choice, will pick material that is familiar to us, that resonates with us.

The tragedy is that women have been so silenced throughout history that there is little recognition or appreciation of our voices. And not enough women in power to truly influence the selection, development, and programming process.

There had been an argument on an online board last year concerning the Pixar film "Up" - and how some people lamented that Pixar had yet to make a true adventure film with a girl in the leading role. Pixar has had girls in supporting roles, and we've all seen gender-stereotyped lead girls in tons of animated films. But this was an argument about the specific lack of ADVENTURE stories where girls are the leaders. One particular comment really struck me:

A man wrote that his young son - who has been around girls and women his whole life - would be fully able to relate to a story about a girl. He wondered why it seemed more likely to the powers-that-be that his young son could better relate to a character portrayed as a truck, or a fish.

Eventually, consensus on the Pixar debate seemed to conclude that the directors, animators, and writers at Pixar are predominantly men, and that they aren't trying to be sexist, they are merely creating stories that they personally can relate to.

On an individual basis I do not believe that I am often discriminated against. I know a lot of men who dig my work and respect what I do. But there is still a collective, insidious perception that if I am a woman then my work is only going to be understood by other women. Never mind that I have been utterly transformed by the work of men! We can, if given the opportunity, relate to each other, learn from each other, embrace each other - we live in this world together. Men have made extraordinary contributions to the world, there is no question about that - and we women have embraced your vision. But, again, the perception exists that the female perspective is somehow not interesting to men. A producer even suggested trying to market my sci-fi/drama feature as a "chick flick" to tap into that ready market! (I explained in no uncertain terms that "chick flick" is synonymous with "crap only women like" and that I never wanted to hear the words uttered again.)

One obvious thing that needs to happen is we need to have more women in decision-making positions - as selection panelists at film festivals, as development executives, as directors. Very, very slowly this is starting to happen - but too slowly. When Kathryn Bigelow picked up the Academy's Best Director Oscar I wept - but only partly because I was happy. I was also really pissed that it took the Academy 80+ years to see exceptional directing talent in someone without a penis. Since the beginning of film, women have been an integral part of this industry. But we happen to live in a world that refuses to document our existence, or value our work as much as that of men.

There was an op-ed piece in The New York Times this year during awards season that suggested, with dark humor, to end the practice of recognizing Best Actor and Best Actress. After all, talent is NOT gender specific. I got into an argument about this with a male actor (and friend) who was adamantly opposed to the idea, on the grounds that there would be half as many acting awards given out! It seems ludicrous to counter that argument by suggesting they add MORE categories - like Best Woman Editor, Best Woman Composer, Best Woman Screenwriter, etc. That would be offensive! And where would it lead? Best Asian Director? Best Black Costume Designer?

But the point is... Talent is not gender specific. Or ethnicity specific. Or anything else. Talent is talent. And we still live in a world that can't quite fully embrace that. Women ARE already equal in terms of what we are capable of doing. But there is an underlying perception that has not caught up to that.

The men of the world still tend to make higher salaries than women. So men have more money to spend on movies. So more movies are made to attract the male audience. One might conclude that this cycle will not change until there is gender equality EVERYWHERE -- where women earn an equal salary, and are represented and respected in all of the fields where they wish to have influence.

So the solution to gender inequality in the film business is, not so simply, to reach a global state of gender equality. It is a world worth striving for.

Care to share?

Thursday 27 May 2010

Auditions & Rejection.

Most trained actors have two distinct skills. One, is acting. The other, is moaning about rejection. I sympathize, I do. But there is a lot to focus on other than the rejection.

Take for example, a film I've just cast. For the lead female role alone, I had 300 applicants. 220 of those weren't applicable, they didn't fill what was needed. I didn't reject them; they just simply didn't read the breakdown. Many of these actresses will feel like they were rejected.

Then I sorted through about eighty possibilities. I had to think about where they were located, how they would fit with my potential lead actor, their experience, how friendly they are and numerous other factors. 'How friendly they are' is a big one. About forty of the actresses were either impersonal, seemingly disinterested, or rude. Disinterested may seem like a strange thing, you wouldn't expect it from a young actress-- but it's common. Or maybe it's disillusionment. It normally comes in a covering letter that says, "Hi Mike. I'm interested in the role, I have lots of experience, Lucy." To begin with, my name isn't Mike. Secondly, when someone is really interested in a role, they express it. So at this stage-- many actresses are either rejecting themselves, or rejecting the idea of being cast in the film.

I mention disillusionment because many actors, after, say 50 failed applications, start to take it out on the process and the person they're emailing. They may have spent a month writing beautiful crafted, inspired and personal covering letters to casting directors for various projects, with no success. That's sad, it's disappointing, but it wasn't the fault of me or my project; yet, the after-effects of the actor's previous failures show up in the emails I receive. World-weariness is not an attractive feature in a potential collaboration.

The audition itself is a fascinating process. I'm very aware of the strange rank that directors have. Whereby, I could be a car salesman by day, but if I call myself a Director by night; I am afforded a strange superiority in an audition room. Many Director's play up to this - making auditions difficult for actors. That's usually down to ego, or inexperience, or both in a Director. For me, I don't use this power - certainly not in the way many others do. Instead, I'm just excited. There are, say, seven actresses coming to read for us -- and I'm excited because, having filtered through 300 people, I've found seven of whom I want to meet and see if they're what we need in the film. Already, the seven actresses have achieved something incredible. Any actor who ever gets an audition should be aware that they are doing magnificently; they are rising far above the crop of literally thousands of competitors. The mere fact you have an audition means someone involved in making a movie sees something in you that they want in their project. The more you have online in terms of headshots, videos, and details, the more you can be certain of your success-- despite a chance to be rejected for your look, acting, experience, hobbies, height, weight, weird feet, whatever-- despite all that, you're wanted in the room. You are an amazing success!

The problem is: when I audition seven people for a role, I can only use one. By this point, myself and the people helping me cast need to figure out; what actor is right for the role? Do they fit the energy of the film? Will they 'fit' opposite the other actors? Do they have the right coloring to fit in with the family members we cast? Usually at this point, 3 or 4 are out of the picture due to various answers from those questions. Those that are left, cause much pain for casting director's because they're all so great, and everyone is divided on who to cast. "Cast Donna with Michael, they'd look so amazing together!" "No no no, cast Katharine, she's got that perfect face for a monster!" "Hold on, what about Eva?". Etc etc. What is happening here is not rejection, it's figuring out who fits, figuring out how to make it work.

So we cast Eva. But I want to keep in touch with Donna and Katharine. I email them telling them that they're completely awesome, and that we should definitely do something soon. Unfortunately, Katharine and Donna may very well see this as a rejection. Of course, they didn't get the role, and that's disappointing. But is it the big thud of rejection that they're currently feeling as they consider changing careers? It's not. They were WONDERFUL, it's just that I can only cast one person, and even though they may very well be perfect for the role, it just so happens that someone else has a similar nose to the person playing their Dad, or they have the opposite hair color of their partner, or the costume people just rang up and said we can have the bigger size monster costume for free as there's one going spare, or a million other reasons.

Rejection is the worst possible term you can use when you don't get a role. The majority of the time, it's not rejection. And if you insist on calling it rejection-- be aware, along the way to whatever particular rejection you received, were many many positives. And there is always one more time.

Care to share?

Tuesday 25 May 2010

A Quick Acting Excercise.

Pick up a book. It has to be fictional. Preferably one you like. And it has to be written in the first person, i.e "I was/I am/etc". Read two pages.

After you've done that: read the same two pages but read them out loud.

You'll probably notice a big difference. When you just read it, it sounds perfect in your head. When you read it out loud, it's likely to sound a bit fake, a bit detached, even a bit over the top.

This is the challenge! Keep Reading it out loud until you are satisfied that it sounds as good as in your imagination. Keep doing it both ways-- why does the version in your head sound better? What is it doing differently to the spoken version? How can you make them the same?

Let me know how this excercise goes. You don't need to be a pro actor to do this!

Care to share?

Monday 24 May 2010

The Missing Voice Of Women In Film.

A couple of days ago I wrote an article Women, Men & The Film Industry. I am really grateful for the responses-- some interesting points were raised and are definitely in need of further discussion. However, I must say, I think at times I was a bit too vague about what I perceive to be the problem. So allow me to be a little more concise.

There is a voice that is MISSING from the world of film. And it is the voice of women.

Yes, Sofia Coppola made a couple of good movies. Yes, Kathryn Bigelow made THE HURT LOCKER. Both of these things are GREAT. But, they are exceptions. I am aware, also, that I am a male filmmaker. And I am aware that, industry-wise, I am not necessarily a 'success.' So I feel there may be many men like me, who have yet to carve out the careers we want--- so it seems odd to make a big thing about a 'lack of opportunities' for women when we ourselves are struggling for opportunities. That is a valid point and that is a discussion which I think we can have at some point. But this is an issue far bigger than my personal career.

For me to make a statement that we are missing the voice of women, that would of course insinuate that film is dominated by the voice of men. So what exactly is that voice saying? James D, in response to my previous article, said "Bigger films expect scantily-clad women and dashing men, but do women directors want to shoot that?". Another poster, Simon, said, "I think women are cut from the profession because the movies that draw in box office--predominately crap horror movies and romcoms--are unbearably sexist." I agree with these remarks. Of course, not all films are like that. But as generalizations go, these are pretty accurate.

I was holding an audition today for my next film. A friend of mine, an actress, is helping me cast. We were having a conversation about casting-- when she brought up, without my prompting or mentioning these blog articles-- a troubling experience she had recently with a man who was casting a short film. At the audition, he pushed her to do things that were not in the script, things of a more suggestive nature. And then, in the days that followed, he sent her many texts saying they should 'meet for drinks' to discuss the project. The more he told her about the project, the more troubling she found it.

The issue of the voice of women being missing in film, and the fact that so so many actresses have to deal with this bullshit in auditions and castings are NOT separate issues. They are connected, albeit at a distance. In the comments to the previous article it was great to see people engaging in a difficult subject, one that's hard to grasp and discuss because, it never really gets discussed. It gets mentioned, then passed over. I noticed in the comments, just like when I've talked about the issue with people face to face, there is a feeling that, "hopefully THE HURT LOCKER'S success will change things," or "Maybe actresses should be more careful," and these are very passive points of view. There's a feeling of helplessness. That for this issue to be taken seriously, Spielberg needs to deal with it, or Julia Roberts needs to start a campaign; rather than us exploring the notion that we play a part, as writers, directors, actors, bloggers, etc.

YES, the industry, even the viewers; tend to value scantily clad women. I won't lie, I loved Megan Fox in TRANSFORMERS. It wasn't because of her acting. But there is also a view that seems to permeate, a view that women, given the chance to direct, want to make Meg Ryan weepies, and movies about sisters coming to terms with grief. I think the point we need to wake up to is that, this is not entirely true. As it turns out, I, a guy, wouldn't mind making a Meg Ryan flick, and many women, as THE HURT LOCKER so aptly proved, have a lot more to say than the industry allows them.

I think, as an industry, we marginalize women - and, in the main, give them fluffy rom-coms to make. And we have a tendency to think that, if it's a big franchise or an 'important' movie, we give them to the men to make. I think this is wrong.

It is also true that nearly every young, upcoming actress, has had an inappropriate audition. Or maybe two of them. Or six. I have spent many years lecturing actress friends about their naivety, giving them tips on how to spot director's with bad intentions. But, actress naivety is not the problem. Just because you're a fresh, enthusiastic and beautiful 21 year old actress, it doesn't give men the right to abuse that. But they do, ruthlessly, every day-- across our industry. If any of you feel this is an exaggeration, perhaps I could get some actresses to give examples, even if anonymously, because the frequency of its occurrence would, I'm sure, surprise many of you.

My hope is that we can start to understand and begin to appreciate the depth of this issue. It's not simple, there are many layers to it. My hope is that, we can begin to see it as something that affects all of us and is caused by all of us. And my belief is that, by being more aware and by discussing it - we can begin to change things.

Care to share?

Saturday 22 May 2010

Women, Men & The Film Industry.

"The statistics of women in film are rubbish across the industry apart from hair and make-up, production assistants, and cinema cleaners! Perhaps one reason why few women move into directing films is that they don't see as many films from a female's perspective or female directors as role models."
-Rachel Millward

Our industry favors men more than women. This is indisputable. In Hollywood, 94% of films are directed by men. At Cannes this year, out of the twenty Palm D'or nominees, none of them are women. This is one element of the problem.

Here's something else. Nearly all actresses I know have had an experience where they've turned up at an audition, only to find out it's in some guy's apartment, and as it turns out; the scene she has to read is a little more sexual than expected. That's one example. There are many that are far worse. Of all the male actors I know, none have been presented with this problem. I have talked about this before, in my article 'Something All Young Actresses Should Be Aware Of'. "There is one magic way to meet women. And not just any women, but the most beautiful women you could find. It's a very simple sentence, "I'm casting a movie."" Absolutely anyone can hold auditions for a film. Anyone can register on, Casting Call Pro or Talent Circle - and there are people who abuse this.

Immediate thoughts come to mind such as 'This is a problem with society, not with the film industry' or 'I am a good guy, I don't do anything wrong.' This is a very convenient position to take and one that I, as a male in the film business, have often taken. When a newspaper reports that women are not getting their films funded, or that there are no meaty acting roles for them, I use my privilege as a man to disregard the matter; to not see it as my concern. By using this privilege, by not being accountable for it, I am becoming part of the problem. I'm being a bystander; ignoring a very real and very pressing problem in our industry.

Bringing awareness to this topic is new to me, and there is so much to be looked at, discussed, and processed. A good way to start would be to hear more. In what ways is the film industry unfair/prejudice? (i.e. acting roles, directors, etc), and in what ways are women potentially manipulated and put in danger? (i.e. unprofessional auditions, nude scenes, etc). I'm sure there are many, many things that I am not aware of -- and that's exactly why I'd encourage you to share them with the readers here.

I'd really like to hear from you all - men and women, on this topic. By hearing more around your concerns and issues, we can then go deeper into them. This is a discussion that needs to happen more in our industry, but generally doesn't. So let's start.

Care to share?

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Want Friends, Will Write

This blog has grown steadily and quietly over the last year-- it's been really exciting for me. The industry is full of fiery film geeks who can name the budget of Transformers 2 and can list the entire crew list of Pulp Fiction-- but it's hard to have a nice conversation about Billy Wilder, or a space to delve into deeper issues like creativity (or lack thereof), blocks/inner critics, and other inspirational things.

This site has given me the privilege of being able to focus on those things, and have you all along for the journey. You are all, it seems, very much like me. I am not the only one who spends sleepless nights watching Jimmy Stewart films from 1938 (or your own equivalent)-- we all do. There's something really powerful in that.

But I'd like there to be more of us. Part of that is the achievement driven side of me wanting a more successful blog. But far over-riding that is the part of me that feels more people would value this if only they knew about it. It's been great recently to have numerous guest bloggers, as well as interviews with some of the professional I admire the most, such as Joshua Malina, Scott Rosenberg, etc. I'd love their inspirational words to reach bigger audiences.

So I'm asking for a small favor. I'd really appreciate it if you could email five of your friends, and tell them about this blog and why you think they might appreciate it. Invite them to look at the site, or maybe even recommend a few particular articles on it.

Many of you already do this, and share articles on your Facebook walls, and for that I am extremely grateful. If you could personally recommend and invite five of your friends to come here; and others do the same, I think it would really add something to what we have here. It's strange how I get to know you all through the comments and emails. I look forward to more of it.

Care to share?

Sunday 16 May 2010

Review Of A Film

A film is a form of entertainment whereby a person, or people, watch a story take place on a screen. Dogs and cats also watch them but are less likely to pen a review.

Films tend to begin with opening credits, which I find very impressive as they enable you to find out the name of the film as well as who starred in it.

The majority of a film tends to be a mix of audio and visual - allowing an audience to both hear and see. This is a fantastic idea which I find to be wonderful, although only if I have a screen and speakers. Many people prefer audio only, so I will be reviewing 'radio' in the future.

Films sometimes tell a story, which is fabulous. Rumor has it that after the invention of film many people thought that instead of telling stories they should instead tell instructions, or perhaps even tell the time. Luckily they settled on stories but this has been abandoned by Hollywood in recent years.

Films last for two hours, except for really bad ones which run closer to three. Films have also introduced the world to radical ideas not seen in real life such as: competent lawyers, happy endings, and women who return phone calls.

Films are let down by a strange thing at the end, where lots of names scroll up a screen for seven minutes, although this is said to be preferable to watching an Eddie Murphy movie.

Overall I give films four stars out of five. They can be very entertaining and original, although some things are terrible, such as their influence on gun crime, the pressure they put on women to be beautiful and Brett Ratner's filmography.

Care to share?

Saturday 15 May 2010

Film Scraps.

This morning I watched twenty minutes of HIGH FIDELITY. A few days back I watched about half of SOME LIKE IT HOT. Earlier in the week I watched six minutes of an episode of ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE and I even watched all of IN SEARCH OF A MIDNIGHT KISS apart from the last fifteen minutes. I never plan to do this -- and of course, many of you will be like "Dude, I'm like-- oh my god, what the hell? You're meant to be a film dude but real film dudes watch all of each film dude what the hell dude, really, what the hell?"
And of course, I agree. I never plan to not watch all of a film. I'm not really sure what happens, or why it happens. There are two factors that I can think of. One, my attention always drifts. Maybe I have Attention Deficit Disorder; but unfortunately it wasn't invented back when I was a kid, so I never had it. My mind drifts. Sometimes it's thinking about girls, "oooh, I wonder what Mandy Frumpton looks like naked." Sometimes, it's more creative thinking, like "oooh, I wonder if I creep down Brownhurst Avenue late at night, maybe I could sneakily see Mandy Frumpton naked." Sometimes my mind just drifts off and dreams of nonsensical things, like "ooh, I wonder if I asked Mandy out, and she said no, maybe I'd bump into her in the store, and she'd be buying beans, but they'd have no beans, and I'd steal some cheese. I'd steal the cheese and everyone would be running after me...." Then I snap back. I missed a bit of dialogue from the movie I'm watching. I get grumpy. Then I go for a pee. Then there's someone at the door. It's Mandy, she says to stop fantasising about her because she's trying to get some work done. Then I get a phone call. Then I come back to the movie but I quickly check my emails, and there's an email from a disgruntled blog reader saying "Your blogs are crap man! Don't you ever blog about important film stuff!?" and I say, "I do. Didn't you read the one about Mandy Frumpton?" and then I start the movie again-- but now I've lost it. Or rather, the film has lost it. Lost its flow. I decide to make a cup of tea then come back to it.

The problem that happens when I come back to it is part of the bigger problem. Namely that, my moods swing erratically when it comes to movie watching. I really have to be in the mood to watch a film. Often, when I stare at my DVD's, wondering what to watch; it's not so much about what is a good movie but 'what is it that I need?'. I need the drug of film, and I need the right prescription. For example, the other day; I was in a flighty, happy, Billy-Wilder-is-God mood, so I put in SOME LIKE IT HOT. But as it was playing, I got a great idea for a film. I paused the DVD and began frantically writing. Twenty minutes later I realized my idea; about two men who dress as women to make some money and avoid criminals was hardly original. I shut down my laptop and returned to the movie. But now I was angry at myself for starting a crap script, and this comedy nonsense was clearly not what I wanted to be watching.

This morning, I was in the mood for HIGH FIDELITY. I'd been avoiding it for about four years-- ever since I lent it to a girl called Gemma who decided to let her cat have a three hour disco on the data side of the disc (I can only assume). I decided to risk it, hoping the disc would work. It did, and the film was good. Just as I remembered, scenes in order and everything. But after a short break because of a work matter, I couldn't get back into the movie. I've seen it a heap of times, and it's slow and predictable and blah de blah, la la. I won't be going back to it any time soon.

I have these scraps of movies everywhere. It can't be good for me to be watching random bits and pieces of films. Am I the only person who does this? I suspect you are all good film-people who would never ever even pause a film or even stop for fires, but maybe someone can relate.

Care to share?

Friday 14 May 2010

The Writer Who Never Wrote About The Things He'd Never Written.

There was a writer, a great writer, although he never wrote, because he didn't have time to. This is what he wrote about in his memoirs, or at least he would have, if he had found the time. You see, the writer was unfortunate in that every time he went to write he would have something more pressing to do. Like pressing clothes, pressing a button on a microwave and pressing people's patience.

The writer's creativity was a strange and complex thing. His imagination would create wonderful ideas, which he would then sit down to write. As soon as he did - another wonderful idea would enter his mind, meaning the other one seemed less important, meaning he returned to pressing.

The depressing nature of his natural inclination to press, rather than write, was repressed and oppressed, causing much stress, a complete mess. Often, he would be just about to write his masterpiece when he would get an unexpected call at the door. On days it didn't happen, he would call up friends and demand they call round unexpectedly. When they did, he would curse at the Gods for making him so busy.

The writer was a remarkable fellow in that he could never find the time to write but he could always find the time to Google the symptoms of his ever changing illnesses. And when truly frustrated by his inability to find time to write, he would shoot off a ten thousand word email to friends moaning about how busy he'd been. He couldn't understand why all the successful writers weren't busy, when he was extremely busy. He thought he got to the bottom of this when he got two extra shifts tending bar and two extra nights tending a hangover but unfortunately this failed to materialize in the written word.

Many nights he pondered over why he had never made it in the industry and why nobody had ever noticed the genius of his writing. For years, he struggled to figure it out. This struggling made him consider writing his first novel but he felt bitter about all the times the works he had never written had never been published. The bitterness grew and grew, until it was the size of a small goat which is actually quite big in terms of bitterness. The bitterness grew and he got angry towards all the publishers he'd never met and all the readers who had never enjoyed the work he had never written.

He finally decided to quit after many years of not achieving what he wanted with the books he'd never written.

Care to share?

Zero-Budget Filmmaking: An Immense Opportunity.

When people ask me what I do, I usually say that I am a writer-director. A completely marginalized fact is that I am also an experienced producer. For everything that I have written and directed, I have also produced. I just never realized it. And as I set out to work on a new project-- I am feeling an immense amount of excitement at the prospect of not only doing something, but doing it for no money.

Is Zero-Budget filmmaking really zero-budget filmmaking? For me, to call a short film 'zero-budget' - is a film under, say, $400. And a zero-budget feature film would be something around $10,000. The idea being the short film is something that ANYONE could do merely by way of avoiding their cigarettes for a month, or cutting down on nights out, or by dumping their girlfriend. And the feature film version; I think if anyone is really passionate about making a feature film, they can find a way to save, borrow or steal a few thousand. I was just watching 'In Search Of A Midnight Kiss' - a wonderful film with a shooting budget of $2000 and a final budget of somewhere around $12,000. It's films like that which can really help inspire.

The great thing about zero-budget filmmaking is how cheap everything is. Locations: Free. Camera Equipment: Free. Actors: Free. Everything: Free. When you move from zero-budget to low-budget things get more expensive. The problem is that when you have a bit of money, you have to negotiate and barter. But when you shoot on a zero-budget the price you pay for things is anything not higher than zero.

I want to film in your shop.

Pay me $500.

No. I'll pay you $0.


It's that simple. You do what you can, when you can, however you can to make it happen. You turn up on the day and you do what is possible. And usually a lot more is possible because of the freedom of having no money.

On The Set Of Avatar: Rumored To Not Be Zero-Budget.

When you have no money, you usually have no crew, and no big lights; which means you can change setups/locations, etc in an instant. Nothing is ever set in stone. As soon as you have a little bit of money and things are paid for, things tend to get a lot more static. There are little people running around saying "I just spent two hours wiring that!" or "There's no way I can move the crane in time..!".

Locations on a zero-budget are free. One of three things happen. One, you ask for a location and someone says yes. Two, you film without permission. Three, they tell you no and you still film with no permission. Most zero-budget filmmakers will have great tales of stealing the shot -- the act of getting in and doing the scene unnoticed. And when you do get noticed, you send someone over to discuss permission, whilst the rest of you keep getting the shot.

In the last few months I have gotten to know a filmmaker who does very exciting work, he's very talented-- but he says these big sweeping statements to me about how "You couldn't do that for less than $20,000" - and it's absolutely crazy to me. "We were lucky, we got that location for $3,000" he'd say.

Having said that-- I have been wonderfully privileged with the films I have made; to be supported by such incredible people. What I've lacked in money I have made up for with the generosity, talent, and hard work of people who've gone beyond the call of duty to make the films come together. On a short film last year; we finished shooting at 4am each night and the 1st AD would drive the actors home. She didn't get home until 7am. She did this for free, she never even let me give her travel expenses. Similar stories come to mind from my very early films - when old-school friends/work friends would take time out to pick things up, make food, steal a dog for a scene, and my best friend who risked getting sacked so that we could use his work's car park for a night shoot. So many examples of people just being outrageously selfless, enabling me to succeed. People are great-- and somehow, weirdly, you see this more in people when you're doing a film for nothing than when money gets involved.

My point is - if you are stuck at home mumbling to yourself about a lack of money, or a lack of people or a lack of a location--- then it's really time to get up and get out the door. The power to make a film lies with you. The opportunities are endless.

Care to share?

He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother.

Conversation with my Brother.

You gotta watch this, it's a great film.
Meaning: You gotta watch this,
it's a great film.

But is it actually good?
Meaning: Is it good like 'normal'
good, or good in your artsy,
foreign, nothing-happens,
filmy-person type way?

To say our tastes differ is an understatement. Although, we both love 'Cool Runnings.'

Care to share?

Thursday 13 May 2010

Life Is Just A Series Of Facebook Events, But Your Screenplay Can't be.

"Remember the time you drove all night
Just to meet me in the morning
And I thought it was strange you said everything changed
You felt as if you'd just woke up"
-Bright Eyes.

Life is basically just a bunch of appointments and Facebook events. You leave the house at 7am, you go to work. You have a 39 minute lunch break, you go to the doctors, then you go and meet your friend for a quick drink which ends sooner than it should because you need to be home to watch that thing on TV, then you go to bed because you have to be up at 7am.

When we write in this manner - it really kills our screenplays. Often when you're writing, you dream ahead in obvious, logical ways. For example, your characters are sitting in their apartment, and you need to get to the office scene. So after the INT. HOME scene, you have the EXT. HOME scene, followed by the INT./EXT. CAR scene, followed by the INT. OFFICE scene. It's logical. It's how life is. It's also very boring.

If you find yourself writing in this logical way, it's time to close the laptop and dream a bit further. Unless your story is about the mundanity of life, then it's important, I feel, to go in a different direction.

Don't write about the time you met a friend to go see a movie, don't write about two guys walking into a meeting, don't write about two stoners sitting playing Xbox. That might be a part of your life - but it's not the part of your life that is interesting.

Write about the time you showed a girl a part of her neighborhood she's never seen before. Write about the time you turned up at your friend's house at 4am to deliver a birthday cake, write about the time your girlfriend accidentally dropped a kitchen knife on your foot (okay, maybe that wasn't an accident), write about the time you stayed up all night singing songs with strangers, write about the time you stole something, ran from something, changed something.

Now, what is it which makes a scene interesting? If you see a man coming through a doorway, it means nothing. If you see him coming through a window - that is at once interesting.
-Billy Wilder.

If you have a scene where two friends are meeting by a parked car, you may be tempted to write this scene.

Katharine sees Will, standing by the car.



You ready to go?

Sure. If the car is working.

But by taking an extra nine seconds to think about the scene-- you can do it in a more original, and interesting way.

Katharine arrives. Will is nowhere to be scene.

I'm here.

Katharine looks around.


I'm under the car.


Trying to fix it.

You don't know anything about cars.

I just snapped something.

Katharine looks around, panicked.

Hold on, Will, this isn't even your car!

Or something else:

Katharine storms into view and throws her hands up in the air.

Where is the car?

I thought we were going by bicycle?



You don't even have a bicycle.

I thought you would bring them.

Life is mostly boring. We meet our friends for coffee, we talk about our struggles, and then get home safely in time to watch our favorite TV shows. This is life. BAD writers write about this; lots of hispter people sitting around coffee houses talking. You know you're having a bad day when these are the scenes you are writing.

Instead, have the characters sitting on trees, making fires in the forest, making fires on 5th Avenue, have them dancing in offices, have them doing paperwork during dance class; do something different. It can still be realistic. Realism in film isn't about having characters who are home for dinner at 6pm. It's about having characters eat their dinner at 8am in the morning and having the audience believe that they would.

Care to share?

Monday 10 May 2010

Creatively Bankrupt.

I feel a really strong urge to write a blog post tonight, but have nothing to say. It's strange, feeling compelled to create something despite having absolutely nothing of interest to say.

This must be what it's like to be a Hollywood film producer.

Care to share?

Sunday 9 May 2010

Thinking & Dreaming: In Search Of Me At 13.

There is a channel changing kind of process that happens in the mind. It's what happens when you're trying to get to sleep, and you're thinking about that hot girl who works in the shop near where you live, when suddenly-- without realising it, you start thinking about a dancing elephant who goes by the name of Dave, who keeps yelling "I want more turkey!". You snap out of it. You laugh to yourself about the fact you were just thinking about an elephant called Dave who demands more turkey.

The thing is, the place where you found the elephant --- that's the place where all your greatest ideas are. It's just so hard to get there.

When you open up FinalDraft and stare at the clean white page; you have a very specific job. To write stuff. So you start doing a very purposeful, conscious thing, you ask yourself; who are the character's? What are they doing? Why are they doing it? How will they do it? What is stopping them doing it? If you're lucky, you may at some point hit a button on the keyboard. But more often, you won't.

I love making my way home from the local train station-- knowing I have a fifteen minute walk with just me and the music in my ears. It allows me to dream and drift in ways I am not totally controlling. It is inevitable that during this process; it happens -- the magic genie presents, out of nowhere, a perfectly conceived idea for a film about a baseball team who tragically die in a train crash only to be reincarnated as expert sandwich makers. The idea, at this point, is at its most golden.

Getting back home and in front of the page; it's difficult to hold onto the spirit of that idea. And it's because you kind of clock-in as a writer, and the dreamer gets left behind.

The interesting thing about the moment when a good idea first gets delivered in a small envelope to the little imagination dump in your brain-- is that it is completely clear of any kind of critical voice. I think we've all had this moment-- the moment where you're laughing hysterically with a friend at 2am because you're certain that the incident where you fell over an ice cream cone and landed on a small lady called Mrs. Fudgebaker would make for a perfect movie. The idea is SO golden at this point of time.

If only we could stay there! Unfortunately, the minute you get into the idea; a little ugly man appears in your head saying "Pathetic! You're useless! Your ideas suck! You're not relevant! No-one will buy it! No-one will understand it! You're not a writer! You're not worthy! No wonder she dumped you! You are not allowed dinner tonight! Forget it! Give up!" And then you write nothing.

Your favorite movie is your favorite movie because it's your favorite movie. It is better than the movie that you just thought up - by virtue of the fact that it actually exists. Someone dared to make it. Before that, someone dared to write it. And as you count up the times you chickened out of writing a film, as you count up all the scattered 3-pages of notes that pop up in random corners of your home --- the realization dawns; the ugly voice in your head telling you that you suck is COMPLETELY RIGHT; up until the point you ignore him, or at least send him out for groceries and get on with writing. At some point, before the day you die; you may as well just at least attempt to write what is truly in your heart, or at least go in search of it. Because only then can you, or a producer, or anyone, do anything with it.

To do that, you need to access the dreaming part of yourself. The part that gets excited. The part of yourself that abandoned normal life, aged 13, and instead opted to watch films again and again and again. Where can you find this part of yourself? I don't know. I can only talk for myself. When I was younger; I loved making mix tapes for people, I loved getting lost in music, I loved watching all of Tom Hanks' films again and again and again. I loved watching really crappy movies on TV at 2am.

BUT WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME I DID THOSE THINGS AND DID THEM CONSISTENTLY? Do I do them enough -- or am I too caught up in trying to succeed? Trying to make a living? Trying to pay the bills? Trying to impress people around me? Trying to be what people expect of me? ------ What happens when I focus on them things?

When I worry about what people expect, or what script readers want, or what I need to do to succeed--- that is when Mr. Ugly pops up in my head and tells me my writing and life is a train wreck. But he never did that back when I used to excitedly discover dozens of amazing songs every night, or when I would go to the front porch and pick up a shiny new VHS copy of the Tom Hanks flop 'The Money Pit'.

There's a boxing fight taking place. In the red corner, are all my passions and joys; all the things that make this stuff amazing. In the blue corner, are all the pressures and assumptions and all the things that make this shit HARD. And the blue corner has been ruthlessly smashing the red side to pieces.

It's time to wake up. It's time to remember where I came from, remember how it felt; give myself an Al Pacino pep talk; and get on with business. I could be wrong, and I hate to assume - but my inclination, is that some of you need to do the same.

Self-criticism only tends to come around when the stakes are high. The voice in the mirror is more likely to tell you that you look pathetic before a date than before making a piece of toast. The point is - every time you go to write, you have your trusted friend to smash you to pieces. Find ways to alleviate the pressure. I don't know how. But the more you return to the original joy that inspired you back when you were 13, the more you will be able to find and nurture original and personal ideas -- and put them down on the page.

Am I in tune
Yea can't hear much
But the melody coming from you
Baby please don't rush
Keep the tempo slow and you
Let me hear the words you say
Let's go and get tangled in chains of golden days
-The Damnwells

Care to share?

Saturday 8 May 2010

Where Did That Idea Come From? And Why Today?

Ideas are strange. You can be sitting around for four months desperately trying to force something out, and nothing happens. And then on a random Tuesday morning you have an idea about a German Politician who is mistaken for a waste disposal expert; and you realize it's GENIUS. You begin writing immediately.

Why does it happen on a random Tuesday? And why does it happen when you were preparing to spend the day watching 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'? There are many reasons where the source of ideas are obvious. Mainly, if you are someone who is social, or meets new people a lot, or goes to interesting places. But if you're me, it's more likely you'll spend four days sitting at home eating cereal. In which case, naturally - creative ideas are hard to come by. But why, 3.2 days into 4 days of nothingness do you suddenly, without explanation, get the sudden idea for a thriller-mystery about the kidnapping of the entire staff of the Coca Cola Company.

I am beginning to find the fact I have ideas more interesting than the ideas themselves. I sit there thinking 'wow, all I was doing was buying books on eBay and talking to Natalie on Facebook when suddenly I got an idea about an environmental activist who gets killed by an angry bunch of wild animals.' Why now? How did that happen?

It's very strange. The other morning, after an extended period of no-interesting-writing-happening-at-all, I wrote a short 16 page script in about forty minutes. And it's unlike anything I've written before (although it uses the same 26 alphabet letters). Where it came from, I have no idea.

So; where do these ideas come from? If we find out, can we go there more often? Also, if my mind knows instantly whether an idea is great or terrible, then why do I spend so long, so often, trying to work on the really bad ones?

Care to share?

Friday 7 May 2010


Joshua Malina is most known for his roles in THE WEST WING and SPORTSNIGHT. If you've never seen those; you'll almost certainly know him from his extensive television work. If not, don't worry-- you're in for a treat. Joshua Malina is, without doubt, one of the most underrated actors in the industry today. And as Malina hopes himself, as we find out in this interview - I am sure that we are going to see a lot more of his genius as a comedic actor and a talented writer in the very near future. If you want to know what it was like when Aaron Sorkin left The West Wing, or you want to know what it's like being a regular on a TV show or even if you want to know what it's like having Clint Eastwood save your acting career -- then read on. Joshua gives us a fascinating and personal insight into the life of a working actor.

KID: Do you remember when you first wanted to be an actor?

JOSHUA MALINA: Very early on in life my greatest ambition was to be a rabbi and a Good Humor man, but after that brief phase it was always "actor" -- probably from the time I was 8 years old or so. As a kid I was really into theater. I grew up in the suburbs of New York. My Dad's best friend was a major Broadway producer, and my dad was involved in a few productions. My mom was a musical theatre star herself in college. So I was always around it. I saw lots of shows in NY. I did camp and school plays, community theater, after-school groups, all that. It was what I liked doing more than anything else. And I always felt like that's what I was -- an actor -- so deciding to pursue it as a career was not a tough decision for me. I was spared the angst that a lot of people experience when deciding to go for it. I had an innate confidence that one way or another, I'd make it as a professional actor.

You began on the stage -- did you always want to do screen work?

I definitely always thought about doing T.V. and movies. I grew up loving great comic film actors: Groucho Marx, Gene Wilder, Chaplin, Walter Matthau, Lucille Ball, Gleason, Art Carney, people like that. I always thought I'd eventually work in front of a camera too. Now I sometimes look at my career and wish I had done more on stage before I sort of became a "T.V. actor." After doing so much theater as an amateur, I really haven't done all that much as a professional. After graduating from college in 1988, I became close friends with Aaron Sorkin, and he cast me in A FEW GOOD MEN, which opened on Broadway in November of 1989. That was literally a dream come true for me. I had fantasized as a kid about being on Broadway, so AFGM was a quest fulfilled and a series of experiences that I'll always treasure. Between the NY production and the national tour, I believe I logged about 750 performances of the show, playing a variety of roles along he way. There's no better substitute training-wise for an actor than a long run in a good play. When I moved to LA in 1992 I did a lot of plays in small theaters, but it wasn't long before my focus became T.V. and film.

Looking at how you started out in film, 'A Few Good Men,' 'In The Line Of Fire,' and 'Malice' - that's a pretty great way to start a career. You were working with some big actors - was it difficult?

Actually, working with actors like Nicholson and Eastwood was not difficult at all. It never struck me as intimidating; I just saw it as an opportunity to watch how they worked. And they couldn't have been nicer. My role in AFGM was teeny-tiny, but Jack was kind and complimentary. And I'm pretty sure Eastwood saved my job for me on IN THE LINE OF FIRE. I had one scene in which I drop him off at LAX. I pull up to the terminal, stop, he gets out, and we have a brief conversation before he walks off. Well, I had never driven a car onscreen before, and my head was spinning with all the information: Start here, drive there, land with your front wheels on the two sandbags, don't look to the left, etc., etc. Add to that the fact that Clint Eastwood was sitting in my passenger seat, and… on the first take I drove about 2 miles an hour, hit my spot, and we played the scene. The director -- Wolfgang Petersen -- yells "Cut," walks over and kindly says in his German-inflected English: "Yeah -- that was a little…wimpy. A little wimpy. Remember, you're a secret service agent. You're tough. You could probably drive a little bit faster." Okay. Take two -- I barrel-ass into frame and jam on the breaks as I hit my sandbags. In my peripheral vision I see Eastwood kind of planing back and forth as he absorbs the force of my short-stop. I immediately hear "Cut!" and someone runs over -- not the director, an AD maybe -- and starts laying in to me: "What are you, nuts?! That's Clint Eastwood you're driving! The star of the movie! You trying to kill him?!" Before I can formulate a response, Eastwood gets out, slams the door, and tells this guy "The director of the film just called this man a 'wimp.'" Of course he's gonna get in there and drive like that. That's what he was told do." How great is that? Clint Eastwood -- my hero. Classic.

I really liked your role as Tim Messick in 'From The Earth To The Moon.' Is it difficult coming into a project where you only have one or two small scenes to do? There must be a different kind of pressure to when you're a regular?

Absolutely. Counter-intuitively, having a smaller part can be more nerve-wracking than a big, meaty one. Early on, I had some roles that were just a line or two. You can really screw yourself up, obsessively running a two-line bit in your head. "From the Earth to the Moon" wasn't really a tiny role, it was basically one nice scene where I'm being interviewed about my part in the space program. I have a good monologue, filled with quite a bit of technical mumbo-jumbo. I count this as one of my strengths as an actor -- the confident recitation of shit I don't understand. When it was time to run the scene for the first time, I walked around the room, figuring out the blocking and said my bit. I finished and the director, Lili Zanuck, says -- in front of the whole crew -- "That sounded like you were just trying to say the words in the right order." Incredibly embarrassing! I had the presence of mind to tell her that that's exactly what I was trying to do, as it was the first time I had ever run a complex scene. The shooting proceeded to go fine, but for me it was an object lesson in bad directing. There's no reason to humiliate or set your actors on edge. To get the best final product you want to create a relaxed, comfortable place for your actors to inhabit. On a related note, Zanuck has gone on to direct only another three episodes of T.V. since 1998, so there you go…

How did 'Sports Night' come about, was the role written for you?

"Sports Night" was Aaron Sorkin's first T.V. pilot and he let me read it early on. I loved it and really wanted to play the role of "Dan Rydell." Josh Charles was ultimately so good as Dan, and most parts I've played are so different from him, that some people can't imagine I was up for the role. In truth, it's my kind of character and I did come close to getting it. I was at Hollywood Park on a poker binge as I waited to hear the news. Aaron called me and told me it wasn't going to happen. I was pretty crushed, but I'm good at bouncing back. I was somewhere in the bouncing back process a couple weeks later when Aaron called and said "Hey, do you remember the role of 'Jeremy?'" In the original script, Jeremy was much younger and had a more peripheral role. Aaron started to pitch me on the idea of his tailoring it to me. I interrupted him and said "Aaron, if you're asking me whether I'm interested, of course! I'll play anything you got for me." Aaron re-wrote the role and I went in to read for Jamie Tarses and Stu Bloomberg at ABC. Felicity Huffman and Sabrina Lloyd had already been cast and in a gesture of kindness I still appreciate, came in to read with me. It was Jeremy's interview scene from the pilot. Twenty years into my career, I am still very poor at auditioning, but this was an easy one. It was an incredibly well-written, brilliantly funny scene that had been created for me. If I couldn't nail this one, I had no excuse. I felt like the audition went great. I walked out into the hall, and a couple minutes later Aaron came charging out, picked me up and held me aloft. I said "Either you're saying I got the job, or you suck at delivering bad news."

What are the challenges of being a regular on a show?

I wish I could tell you it's a big challenge, but it's not. Being a regular on a T.V. series is a very cushy gig: learn the lines, hit your marks, collect big check. Not much to it. Sure, the days can be very long on an hour drama, but that's why they call it "work." I hate whiney actors who piss and moan about how difficult their jobs are. Ditch digging is hard. Television acting is a cakewalk.

I think one of your unique qualities is having a certain humor and charisma about you, and that's something that comes from you, not the character on the page. Is this something you're aware of?

That's an extremely kind thing to say. I appreciate it. I've been fortunate, though, that the characters I've played longest -- "Jeremy" on SPORTS NIGHT and "Will" on THE WEST WING -- were inherently funny on the page. I think there's always a through-line of humor to Aaron's writing. Maybe as a result of that, I am always looking for the comic aspect to whatever role I'm playing.

And whilst I certainly meant that last question as a compliment, I wonder - can it be a limitation? Could you play the role of a President, or a Mafia boss?

I do think I can play a greater variety of roles than I have thus far -- not sure whether President and Mafia boss are among them, though "consigliere" I can do. Typecasting is a real thing, for sure. If you are seen doing one type of role then Hollywood is probably going to look to you for more of that. It cuts both ways too. I'm sure I am on Smarty-Jew-nerd lists, and that helps me get work. But most of us get into acting because we're drawn to the idea of playing an array of characters, and I'm a bit disappointed that I haven't been able to broaden the range of roles I'm offered. I thought I'd come out to LA and book a sitcom, or play the crazy supporting comic guy in films. Hasn't happened. Maybe as I slide further into my 40's, I'll finally become the comic character actor I've always imagined myself to be.

It was great to see you back with Aaron Sorkin in 'The West Wing.' For me, it's the greatest TV show of all time. You came along at an interesting time, only a season before your friend Sorkin, and Tommy Schlamme were to leave the show - what effect did this have on the cast?

It had a big effect on the cast, for sure. It caught everyone by surprise -- bit of a bombshell. I remember the cast being really rocked. There was a big meeting with Tommy and Aaron. There were a lot of tears, and some protestations along the lines of "If you guys go, I don't want to do the show anymore!" On a personal and creative level, I was extremely disappointed to hear they were leaving, but on a career level I was thinking "Easy now, people. I just got here. Let's not do anything rash…" So sure, Tommy is one of the great Producer/Directors out there, and for my money, no one writes like Aaron. But I give credit to John Wells and the writing staff for keeping TWW going as a really great, quality show for the remainder of its run.

There was a definite shift in the writing, and I noticed that a lot in your character. Did it seem different to you?

Yes, character and plot-wise, Will Bailey underwent a real shift. He went off to run the campaign of V.P. "Bingo" Bob Russell -- a move that caused many of The West Wing's hardcore fans to vilify the character. It's funny, I still deal with fans' anger towards Will! It amuses me. Shortly after John Wells took over, he asked me to come talk to him. He explained that he felt that Will's story had played out a bit, and that as an alternative to becoming repetitive, or to writing the character out, they had come up with the "Bingo" Bob scenario. I said "sounds good to me" and left, thankful that John had figured out a way to keep me involved with the show. I come from the school of acting in which you pick up the script, learn your lines, and show up prepared. I don't really think it's my job to weigh in on storylines. And honestly, I don't care much whether my character is good or noble or heroic or a douchebag. My character is the guy who says the things the writers have him say. It's that simple. So, would I have written the same story for Will? Maybe not. Would Aaron Sorkin have written it the same way? Definitely not. But I think the writers continued to write great stuff for me, and that they wrote Will's arc in a plausible way.

Focusing on a few more questions about the life of an actor -- how do you find most of your work?

As I've mentioned earlier, I am -- sadly -- not the King of Auditioning. I'm not sure what it is. I just find the process mortifying. I have a real fear of overacting, and as a result I think I almost always underplay things at auditions. Aspiring actors out there, heed my call: "Underplaying does not get you the job! Make a strong choice and go for it!" Twenty years in, I still need to process this rule myself. In any event, I do occasionally book things in the room, but most of my jobs come in the form of offers from people who know my work already.

Acting is so tough to get in to - what is the difference between someone who makes it and someone who doesn't? Is it luck, or is there a character trait that makes the difference do you think?

Sad fact: There is a huge amount of luck involved. There just is. Subtract my relationship with Aaron Sorkin and I don't know whether I'd be a professional actor. That said, I do believe there are many other factors that contribute. One really important character trait is confidence. So many actors lack it, but if you don't think you're good, why would you expect someone else to be taken with you? You have to believe in your own talent, and let that belief carry you through the avalanche of rejection that comes with pursuing a career in this field.

What is the difference between working on television and film?

I have worked far more in the former, so I'm no expert on the subject. But as far as the work goes, I find them very similar. Acting on camera is acting on camera. It's the trappings that are different. Film work carries a certain attendant glitz with the fancy locations, the premieres, and so on. But television work strikes me as a much better and more stable job for a husband and daddy, which is what I am first and foremost.

What are you currently working on?

I thought you'd never ask! I am extremely excited to be in post-production on a web series for SONY's website. It's called BACKWASH, and I wrote and produced it, and I star in it with Michael Ian Black, Michael Panes, Noah Emmerich, Lindsey Kraft, and Joe Lo Truglio. It also features supporting work from a host of amazing people (most of them old friends): Jon Hamm, Sarah Silverman, Hank Azaria, John Cho, Steven Weber, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Allison Janney, Dulé Hill, and many more. It's directed by Danny Leiner ("Dude, Where's My Car, "Harold & Kumar"), who is fantastic. It's a 13-part comedy about three losers who inadvertently rob a bank. It's kind of an old-school, slapstick romp. I had an absolute blast making it. It should start airing early this summer. Rather than go on about it here, let me plug my blog. If anyone is interested, they can follow the project here: I'm also posting a lot of info on Twitter, so please follow if you like: "@JoshMalina."

What else would you like to achieve with your career?

I do want to keep writing, creating material for myself and others. I sold a sitcom pilot to CBS this past season that I wrote with a friend. It didn't ultimately get made, but I'd like to continue pursuing that goal. As I mentioned, I'd really like to establish myself more firmly as a comic actor. I want to find (or create) that balls-out comic role that has thus far eluded me.

Care to share?