Sunday 30 January 2011

Where Is My Brain?

I've had a busy weekend. Shooting lots of scenes for a project; which involved a lot of on set rewriting -- and in fact had me constructing a whole new piece this morning, hours before shooting it. And then before you know it you're on set and an actor's saying "What does my character mean when he says that?" and you try to dig into what you meant and who you were four hours ago when you wrote it. Because when you're directing, you need to know where you're going and what it all means. But sometimes things move so fast -- your brain has to jump loops just to stay on board. 

And yesterday was the 29th, and January passed so quickly. I remembered my blogathon, that I set up, with a due date on the 30th of everyone posting about their favorite childhood books. So I started reading mine on the morning journey to our location. But I only got 40 pages in to the perfect Roald Dahl book "Danny The Champion Of The World." But I loved what I read; and I realized so many things about why the book is important to me, but right now I couldn't tell you because my brain is so somewhere else. I've had a booming headache since about 3pm. I think there's a different type of headache you get when you're doing this kind of work. Your brain is stretched in different ways.

The Film Director's Brain Stretch. 

1. Be creative and think outside the box. 

2. Create a safe and productive environment for others. 

3. Know what you're feeling. 

4. Be disciplined with time. 

5. Know your characters inside out, and know what they mean and don't mean and might mean. 

6. Physically try to invent ways to stop daylight from fading. 

7. Be patient with actors when they're just not hitting it. 

8. Protect yourself from dying when your actors are frustrated because their director just isn't hitting it. 

9. Be sure of your instincts. Keep a track of them. Hold onto them, keep them center stage. 

10. Be the one to inspire everyone with energy way way way way after everyone has slumped. 

And many more things. 

The headache was a big one and I still have it now. Water didn't help. Food didn't help. Two paracetamol didn't help. That's the brain stretch-- it just makes your brain expand in crazy ways. That's what people don't get when they sit on the internet and pause mid-masturbation to rip your art to pieces. They're doing it from the luxury of sitting around in their underwear. The ones creating are working so hard they don't even get to change underwear. 

The shoot finished at 5pm and then my producer was coming round at 6pm because we were going out to hunt locations for our upcoming movie. But between those times I needed to upload and edit some clips for my friend who I helped out last week. But I couldn't find the cable to connect the camera. And then eventually I did, and I edited the thing; but I messed it up. And then the producer knocked and I still had the brain stretch headache which means I can function like normal, but I can't smile too easily or put my words together as well because my brain is in that creatively trained place where you're just barely functioning. So I'm in the producers car, somewhere in the middle of London; and we're looking at buildings and the producer and my friend-who-knows-everything-about-London who joined us for the trip said "what about shooting here?" my brain struggled because I had no idea what we were going to be shooting or why, because my brain was so fried. 

I'm here and it's 10.40pm on a Sunday and I still have a crazy headache. I feel bad because; I'm meant to write a heap about the Roald Dahl book -- but it just wasn't meant to be. But I wish I'd done it. My copy of the book says 'class 6' in it, in my handwriting. I was about 9 years old. This book is my life. I love it. Roald Dahl knew the magic. How did he do it? That feeling he gives you when you read him, there's nothing like it. 

And then January was pretty much gone and you look back and you wonder if your month meant anything and you wonder whether 2011 is going to be the year and you have this dumb headache and realize you really must sleep. But it's not even 11pm and I could stay up and watch a few FRIENDS episodes till maybe midnight, because I don't need to be up until 7am. What's better for the brain stretch? Joey being hilarious? Or sleeping? Probably sleeping -- but I don't sleep at 11pm, it's not possible for me. It's always like 3 or 4am. I try for midnight but it doesn't happen. There's just too much to think about at one in the morning. 

This is my 499th post on Kid In The Front Row. 

Care to share?

Wednesday 26 January 2011

When It Gets You

I love when something gets me. I discovered Patty Griffin a few days ago. I was on YouTube looking for something completely different-- and after clicking away and opening up tabs, it landed on one of her songs. I just knew straight away. Wow.

Here's the song I'm listening to right now.

It's new and fresh to me. But wow, she really resonates. That song has 7,000 views on YouTube. That's all it takes. You can upload a video that has only 9 views, but if it means something to you, it will mean something to someone else if and when they find it. We get so caught up in success and being discovered that we forget that it's really about this. It's about feeling something. And it's not a big thing -- it's not Johnny Depp running around on a ship or Megan Fox not wearing much in Transformers. What we're really about, is this stuff. That's why we love watching films and making films. People say they want to be 'discovered' as if they're hoping for the Spielberg phone call -- but really what people need is that one email from a girl in India who accidentally found your video when researching an assignment about rocks; and she just absolutely loves and adores the very thing you're doing. And it's not because of your camera angles, it's because of the essence of what you did. The most beautiful stuff is simple. Chaplin didn't win us over by blowing things up, he won us over by standing next to a girl and smiling.

And that's why I'm responding so strongly to Patty Griffin.

She's real. She sounds like the one who got away. Or the one you haven't met yet. Or the emotion you've yet to put into your writing. She's something you don't find a lot of when you're going about your bustling life in London or wherever it is you are. I have listened to this song, "Forgiveness" about twenty times in the last two days. I'm not at that stage of taking in the lyrics yet; I'm just taking in the feelings, and emotions and some-other-part-of-its-essence-that-i've-not-figured-out-yet. This song is gonna last a fair while for me.

Everyone I know is stressing about what their next job will be, and if they'll ever write that script, and if they'll ever get to act in a commercial, or if they'll ever get to stop acting in commercials. But they forget, we all forget --- it's about something smaller. It's about that feeling we got when Tim Robbins burrowed through that hole in his cell; it's about that little smile your favorite actress did when she picked up her Oscar, it's about that little bit of piano three and a half minutes into your favorite song. That's it! That's why we're here. We want to get closer to it. We want to touch it, and if we're blessed enough, we want to create it for other people.

Your favorite songs and movies help remind you of that. But I think it's at it's strongest when you find something new. But it has to be something that absolutely and completely agrees with the very core of who you are as a human being. It doesn't happen often. But when it does: You know about it. Like you all knew when I blogged endlessly about 'Adventureland' when I discovered it. It just agreed with everything I agree with. It presented a world back to me that I believe in, long for, and love. The same with Patti Griffin these past few days.

Let's not spend too long bitching about the stuff we don't like -- because it has a knack of absolutely consuming us. Instead we need to be hungry and chase down every thing we could possibly love like completely ruthless animals ---- because that's where the magic is. When I was a kid, I'd stay up all night recording great songs from the radio onto cassettes. When I was a teenager, I'd rent every single video that was in the rental store. That kind of goes away as you get older. I mean, a lot of people tell everyone about their passion and knowledge but deep down, by and large, it kinda calms down and we go a bit mad at ourselves for not spending as many nights and days obsessing over the things we love. 

But those places are where the magic is. It's where the fuel is that reminds you why you do what you do, and it reminds you of how perfect a film can be, or how moving a song; and it hits you like a bolt.

Care to share?

An Apple iPhone Conspiracy

My iPhone is getting remarkably slower as the days pass. I'm convinced this is a ploy by apple -- to make me buy a new iPhone.

I was always the type who'd get given some old phone and hold onto it until it broke. But when I saw the iPhone, I liked it. It seemed useful for me as a filmmaker. And it is. I'm always using the notepad app and I use a few other little useful things. Plus the email function is very important.I have an iPhone 3G. You know the one I mean; the old one. Old used to mean a guy with a cane who spoke of war stories. Now old means the same thing as new except it's called something different.

My iPhone is nearly empty. I'm not into games and stuff. Nothing is on it. Yet it's slowing, rapidly. And the few apps I do use stop updating after a while unless you update the iPhone software. So I upload the software.

But then my phone dramatically slows. My instinct is 'this is ridiculous' but everyone elses instincts seem to be 'get the newer iPhone.' It seems insane to me. This is how things go now. We replace and update things by necessity, because that's how it is. They've added a hundred onto the price of a new Xbox just because you can plug a few extra things in it.

My phone is the same thing it was two years ago, except it hardly works. I haven't damaged it, it's just what they do-- get us addicted and then slow things down so we need the new one. I am getting a bit conspiratorial in my old age; but I feel ripped off. I feel we're all ripped off, all the time, and we just fall for it. We buy shiny new things that should last for fifty years but they last for a year and then we're happy to move on. A guy said to me the other day, "I'm on my 4th Xbox 360". How can that NOT be insane? 

Why should I have to buy a new phone? I mean; I have to ----- it currently takes me two minutes just to read a text message. Something needs to be done. I hope someone out there believes my conspiracy theories otherwise they may indeed lock me up!

Care to share?

Sunday 23 January 2011

Blogger Without A Cause

I'm approaching 500 blog posts. That's crazy. Where have I found the energy to write 500 blog articles in under two years? Is that creativity or just mindless productivity? I think I am driven by the feeling that my previous blog article wasn't good enough. I always want to do better. But then, that motivation silences me as often as it encourages me.

When I don't feel pressure, I write comedy. When I do feel pressure I write advice or motivational stuff. Next time you see me giving screenwriting tips or endorsing positive thinking, you'll realise they're mainly for my own benefit.

You're 'on' or 'off' when you write. Sometimes you're 'off' for three months but you still blog through it and hope no-one will notice. But when you're on it's easy; every post is a blast and everyone gives you awards. When it's tough, a single comment from a bitter or jealous or angry reader will floor you for a week. And it's just a blog!! But as a writer, no writing you do is 'just' anything, it's all important. That means a constant state of heightened awareness. Or vulnerability. You all hold the power to make or break a blogger's heart just by the type of comment you make.

When I write a screenplay, the judgement is held off for a couple of years until someone walks out of the cinema muttering about wasted time. But with the internet, it's instantaneous.

Approaching 500 posts, I can't pretend this is meaningless or all for fun. If it was about fun I'd just go ice skating. So what does it all mean? Why am I here writing all the time? Can a person be relevant or interesting when they write so much? Who is reading, and why?

I feel like readers stick around because once in every twenty five articles I write, I nail something that resonates with them. I guess that's worth it, because most of my life I'm looking for writing, films, people and music that resonates with me; and I know how impossible that is. It's all too easy to go two years without finding a song that means something to you. So I'm glad when anyone gets anything from this blog.

So, the 500th will be coming soon. Order the cake.

Care to share?

Friday 21 January 2011

Do you want to take part in the next KITFR Blogathon?

I am going to run another blogathon --- I email a bunch of different bloggers a theme/idea, and on a chosen date, we all post our articles. If you want to be involved, please email me; and be sure to let me know your blog url too! This is NOT film-related; so anyone who blogs can be involved!

Care to share?

GOOD ACTING - When An Actor Is In More Than One Place

A lot of people wake up one day and say 'I'm going to be an actor.' It means nothing, thousands do it. Most have an abundance of training; but so often, it means nothing. The training helps, it gives you technique and tools; but it means very little if it doesn't go deeper.

When you cast an actor in a film; the résumé is important to some people and the look is definitely a factor; but you're looking for someone with a bit of wisdom, with a story in their eyes. Robert Downey Jr isn't just a man acting out scenes from a page; he's a carriage for something more meaningful. His comedy has a sadness to it and his darker scenes have a lightness to them. He's able to be in two places at once because that's how his life is. He doesn't just play what's on the page, he plays what's inside himself. He does this whether he's in a little indie film or in a superhero movie.

The thing about real life is that we are in ten places at one time. If I'm at a party having a good time; I'm also worried about my drunken friend in the corner, and I'm a bit sad that my friend who died 4 years ago can't be there and I'm also dreaming about a beach holiday. If it was a scene in a movie; a great actor would be in all those places but a bad actor would just be at the party.

And this is what you can't teach. Some actors just want the red carpet. Some are too aware of themselves. Some just want to escape their lives. But you want to cast the ones who don't have blank expressions and don't look at things from one perspective. You want performers who bring it all to the table.

The most successful actors often have an ease about them which we assume is because of their riches and celebrity, and I'm sure that's a part of it; but more than that I feel that they have mastered themselves. Becoming a great actor is a personal development project. The more you get to know who you are and what triggers your emotions, the better you'll be. The training helps, but a lot of it needs to be figured out by the actors themselves.

Care to share?

Wednesday 19 January 2011

127 HOURS - A Life-Changer

At its core, 127 HOURS has some simple messages: call your parents, let them know you love them. Commit to things. And if you're inclined to disappear, let the people who love you know where you are. Why? Because when you're caught between a rock and a hard place; these are the only things that matter.

We know these things because Aron Ralston says so. He's the guy who really spent 127 hours  stuck in one place with the near certainty of his death.

Movies have a tendency to get bigger and crazier and louder. But life isn't like that. Life is really simple; it's about showing up and being a good person. That's what being wedged in by rocks reminds you. Aron wouldn't change that experience for anything. It's like the lightning flash of insight that Michael J. Fox got when he left the neurologists office in New York all those years ago after being diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. It wasn't the premieres and free parties that mattered; it was his wife and kid. We forget that.

The story of 127 HOURS is no mystery. He cuts off his arm in order to survive. I gave away the ending. But endings are always certain. You're gonna die and I'm gonna die, I'm certain of that, but it's not the ending that matters-- it's all the pain and joy in between.

And Danny Boyle's latest movie is full of pain. When bones break and arms are sliced into; you feel it. Richard Pryke and Ian Tapp didn't win Academy Awards for sound re-recording mixing for nothing. They made SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE sound real, and they did it again in this one. When Aron slices up his arm, you feel it in your body. The people sitting near you come alive -- whether they throw their arms in front of their faces or whether they lean further towards the screen; everyone reacts. It's gruesome. But it's real. This is pain and you have to keep watching because only by being present for pain do we see the true beauty of pleasure.

There's a moment about half way through when Aron is talking into his camera that will break your heart. Because he talks about wishing he'd called his Mother back and he talks about what a selfish ass he is and you realise he's talking about you too. The difference is that you can be a better person without chopping your arm off.

I don't know how 127 HOURS will feel on a second viewing and I don't know how it will feel on a DVD, so I hope you go to the cinema to see it. THE KING'S SPEECH is a solid movie and THE SOCIAL NETWORK is super slick, but 127 HOURS reminds us of the truly unparalleled simplicity and genius of the cinema.

Care to share?

Tuesday 18 January 2011


If it was a DVD, you'd turn it off, because life is too short. But when you're in the cinema you work harder. And bad movies make you work harder, because you have to make a lot of decisions in order to stay interested.

Henry's crime begins with Keanu Reeves being an accidental accomplice at a bank robbery, he goes to jail and he meets James Caan, who talks for ten minutes about the meaning of life and prison and he throws in some movie cliches and reworks what we loved about Shawshank Redemption into something far more trivial. As a viewer, you notice the trickery, you know it's just a setup and a bunch of character information they're trying to force feed you. But you stick with it because Caan is a joy to watch, he's a real pro.

And then Keanu is out of jail and he can rebuild his life. But he decides to rob the bank he was accidentally caught up in last time. He does it for two reasons; 1) he heard a cliche in jail about how if you did the time you may as well have done the crime, and b) because while he was peeing he saw an old newspaper pinned up on the wall about how, 80 years ago, there was a tunnel between the bank and the theatre across the road.

Vera Farmiga runs over Keanu with her car. Luckily she's the lead actress in the theatre play, and luckily when he casually says during a date "I'm robbing the bank," she's pretty chilled about it and decides to sleep with him.

So you're sitting there in the cinema and you know the script is a hack job and you know that the film isn't carrying you along so you need to do your own work to keep you from walking out. After so many bad films, you know what to do-- you latch onto things you like and you excuse all of the major holes in the plot. It helps when you get a little scene where characters share their feelings that 'life is tough when you go legit' because it gives you that little bit of empathy for the characters. But really you're relating to the part of yourself that says 'life sucks' because you can't relate to Keanu in that way because he was written badly. He has no motivation for robbing the bank other than what he told us, that he realised he could change life by making a decision. But the viewer doesn't buy it because we can't see why he didn't just get a new haircut or go and study Greek history.

So Keanu is fucking Vera Farmiga on a regular basis, and know he's starring in the play at the theatre (so that they can access the secret tunnel). Vera knows they're robbing the bank by digging through the theatre, and she knows the play will be ruined: but she's not asking for a slice of the deal, and she's not planning to run away with Keanu or marry him. So she's just casually sleeping with him whilst he plots to rob a bank and disappear forever. It makes no sense, in fact nothing about her story makes sense apart from the fact she's a disgruntled actor, which was probably not a stretch given the film she was making. But Vera is also a way in and a way of staying interested because not only is she extremely beautiful but she makes everything believable. Even during the insane ending that was seemingly written by a pre-school drama club, we believed her, we felt something for her. How many actors can make you momentarily forget how bad a movie is? Not many, but Vera can. Keanu isn't so bad either. He gets a lot of criticism but he's alright, he puts in a shift and does what's required.

Bad movies are strange. Most people love them which leaves you scratching your head, feeling lonely and confused. Other people hate on them and bitch about them for eternity. But after a while you need a different angle otherwise you'll never love movies again and you'll bore everyone you meet because you'll sound like a bitter film student. Instead you need to find your way in to the movie. Find that one thing that makes it real for you and hold onto it until you're safely outside of the movie theater, wondering why there's a heap of popcorn stuck to your shirt.

Care to share?

Monday 17 January 2011


I don't think I've ever blogged about blogging. I don't think I've ever been consciously aware of the fact that I write a blog. That sounds a bit dumb, I know. I've been here for two years and of course I'm aware of my blogging. I just mean; it's been separate. I always judge my creativity based on the screenplays I'm writing and the films I'm directing and the work I am doing. And then, outside of that, I write blogs. 

But who am I kidding? I write twenty five articles a month here. I could have published three books by now (I'm not saying anyone would read them-- but quantity-wise, I've written the words.) Where does it all come from? Is the creativity of my screenwriting linked to the productivity of my blogging? If I blog more, do I write less? How would I know? I often think of my film career as a chance to leave a legacy --- but is a blog the same thing? Of course, my inner-critic says "it's just a blog, nobody cares about blogs." But you guys are here, and you keep showing up. That means something. The fact we write our blogs and we read other people's blogs, that stands for something. But what is it? What is Kid In The Front Row? What are we doing here? 

I'm not meaning to overanalyse, and I don't mean to ramble narcissistically -- but I was just hit by the insight that, wow, this blog exists, it's here. I've been here for nearly two years and I keep writing articles and keep interviewing people and keep talking about 'The West Wing' and 'Adventureland.' 

I think blogs are great because they fill a gap. I can moan to myself that the world doesn't like the films I like or doesn't view them in the same way, and that's probably what I used to do. But now, I can just write about things here as if it's what everyone cares about. And then, crazily, people often do. Sometimes people write the exact same things as me. 

'Kid In The Front Row' - what is that? What does it stand for? Why do I write? The people who read this and the people who write similarly personal blogs (I'm talking film blogs but it could be other topics..) - I think we write because we don't see a place for us in the newspapers, or in the latest fashions, or a Michael Bay movie. "Pearl Harbor" and "Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen" don't speak to me, they don't resonate with me and my life. I guess that's what it's about---- having a place to share what resonates, and finding people who feel the same. And when they don't agree, it's because different things resonate for them. But we're still here, together, because this world dulls things that resonate. We're meant to be turned on by the same commercials, and coke cans, and skin products; and we're meant to spend 3.95 on a coffee in Starbucks because that's what the whole world does.

A good blog is a cup of coffee that costs 0.75, because that's all it should cost--- and instead of being Starbuckized like everyone else, we're finding the little, personal cafes that feel like home. That's the movies we're after, that's the artists we want to be, and that's why we blog.

Care to share?

Saturday 15 January 2011

Ross & Rachel

Were they on a break, or not? Whose side are you on?

Take the POLL on the top-left of the blog. 
(and share any thoughts you have in the comments)

Care to share?

Friday 14 January 2011

All In A Day's Work

The plan today was to meet with my producer and then go see 'The King's Speech' with Anna in Camden. But my producer had to reschedule because of a family thing so I decided I'd go see 'Blue Valentine' before meeting Anna. And then Irena facebooked me to tell me she was back in the country and she mentioned something about getting a coffee but instead she came to see 'Blue Valentine.' Actually we were early so we went for lunch in Chinatown, which was great because she offered to pay -- which I accepted after momentarily considering hesitating or offering to pay myself.

The movie was great, but I was a bit annoyed because the concept, of showing the beginning and ending of a relationship play out over a movie was something I'd been wanting to do for years. The difference between my script and the one for 'Blue Valentine' is that they actually wrote their one. It's like that Sorkin line from The Social Network', "If they invented Facebook they'd have invented Facebook"

After the movie I'd had enough of hanging out with a talented and pretty actress so I went and hung out with Anna, a talented and pretty actress, and realised I could give up making the films and just hang out with actresses. Anna offered to pay for the movie which I accepted after momentarily considering hesitating or offering to pay myself.

'The King's Speech' was like all English films funded by America; lengthy, full of strange accents, and simple. But Colin Firth did his thing and did it amazingly and is worthy of the Oscar he'll almost certainly get nominated for. And if anyone says "no way he's getting an Oscar, it's going to ACTORS NAME," you're probably right and it probably isn't important.

The film ended and me and Anna hated the old women near us who'd been talking the whole time. We often thought of telling them to shut their stupid mouths but were worried; due to the nature of the film; that they may actually be royalty. That sounds crazy, but Anna is American and Americans think most people in England know the Queen.

After the film we went to get a tea and Anna chose some Turkish place because apparently they give out free food. They didnt give us free food but they did give us tea so long as we paid for it. They were closing in 27 minutes so we rushed through our topics: favourite Friends episodes, crazy director/actor stories, the American football sucks/rocks conversation, and then the Turkish people began sweeping under our feet, which Anna read as 'time to leave' but I interpreted as 'the free food is coming.'

And then I jumped on the tube and began writing this blog as the guy opposite me picked his nose and the guy to my right had a weird smile on his face which is maybe because he can hear Ennio Morricone's theme from 'Malena' coming out of my headphones, but probably not. And then I stopped typing.

Care to share?

Wednesday 12 January 2011

It Is Not The Critic Who Counts

For my friend 
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

-Theodore Roosevelt.

Care to share?

Low-Budget Directing -- Starting With Pre-Production

It's tough. Your mind is in a million places but it's also nowhere at all. You're making a movie and if it's going to happen, you have to pull in the favours. You already owe your friend Mary 16 favours and you still need to replace the lamp you broke when you shot a short film in her house, but still; you need her again. You need everyone a little more than you're comfortable with -- but it's the only way to make a feature film work when you have a tiny budget. And by tiny budget I mean somewhere between zero and the 'Clerks' shooting budget.

You have to be passionate all the time. Truly passionate. Everyone has a film, or a play, or a band that they're flogging -- and everyone is bored. You need to somehow capture their attention. You do that by being as excited by your idea as when it first entered your head. It sounds like fun------ but it's tough. In the last week, seventy well intentioned people have asked "how is your film going?" and you want to say "I'm tired! I still don't have the warehouse location and we don't have an actor to play the Doctor! And we need more money!" -- but instead you talk about how excited you are and how passionate you are because the only way people will be with you is if you are fulfilling a dream project or if you can guarantee them money. I can't guarantee them money, because I don't make horror films with big-breasted women running about. I make the films that could be masterpieces, could be complete borefests. It's a risk. You know it. I know it. But I've got to stay excited and positive because otherwise no-one is with me. If the leader of the pack is fed-up or exhausted or unsure, what effect will that have on the lead actor, or director of photography, or the friend who's printed your scripts out for free to be helpful? You have to know that you're making a masterpiece even though there's no proof of it.

You meet people about once every four years who get it. They get turned on by the same things you do (creatively). They post YouTube clips on your Facebook that they know you'll love. You email each other endlessly talking not just about films but about politics and about hamsters and about conspiracy theories--- because you know that you get each other and you know that it makes sense. But the problem is that these people often live across the world and you can't afford to get them involved in your project and they can't afford to help out for free. And this is where your directing of the film is tested right from the beginning. You have composers who want to compose for you and runners who want to make tea for you and sound guys who want to record the sound for you -- and once you pick one, that's it-- you're trusting them with your world. This film is going to take up two years of your life and if you pick a dud, or someone who isn't excited, you're fucked. 

I was a producer on a movie a couple of years back--  we had no money but we had a lot of passion.... but, there were thirty people on that ship. Everyone wavers at different times. The CGI fell first, he lost all interest, and then so did the editor--- and this is what's so tricky, when you're doing something that is about art and not a paycheck. We all want to do the work, but we also have time limits on our enthusiasm. That never gets talked about. How do you know the people you bring on board to create the magic are going to last the pace? You don't. There's no way of knowing. 

At times you wish you were just a cog in Hollywood, because sometimes the product doesn't matter so much, or there are eighty identical people to keep the wheel turning. But when you truly create something with vision, your own piece of art --- most people aren't making money doing it. Or they're going to be making money ten years from now. The Duplass brothers made a lot of films that nobody watched before they made 'The Puffy Chair' -- and then when they finally got to make 'Cyrus' - the studios made the trailer nothing like the film and before long they're struggling to stay completely valid as artists. These low-budget films that we make as we beg, borrow, and steal to bring them to fruition--- they are the best times we'll ever have, the most freeing---- it's just hard to know that when you're doing it, because you're caught up in a million dilemmas, decisions, and concerns. 

But all will be fine -- just so long as people like the movie.

Care to share?

Tuesday 11 January 2011

When FRIENDS Changed A Little

I'm watching FRIENDS from the beginning again. Don't you just love Friends? FRASIER was funnier, and cleverer, but it was the one about six New Yorkers that captured people's hearts. It was Chandler whose sense of humor influenced a generation and It's Rachel who everyone fell in love with. Say to a stranger in the street; "We were on a break!" or "Grandma's Chicken Salad" and they'll probably get the reference.

But something changed. Maybe it's just me who sees it but I'd imagine it's nearly everyone. There are a lot of establishing shots of the World Trade Center. They even used them in the credits. And now, they mean something different. What they mean, it's hard to say, but it isn't comedy.

It's the strangest thing--- you can be in the middle of a hilarious episode, and then as they transition between scenes; you might see a restaurant, a street corner, and then there they are: the two giant towers. It hits you every time.

Would you want them to edit out the towers? Of course not. Does it make the show less funny? Not necessarily. Somehow, the films and TV shows that we love seem to always be changing. Our lives are always going in different directions, our relationships are always growing or falling apart or changing their meanings -- why would we expect anything different from our art? The world changes. What I'm talking about, I'm not entirely sure -- but almost every episode of Friends is different now-- you're hit in the gut for two seconds when you see the image of those towers. There's something extremely sad about that but there's also something very powerful, too. And of course, it happens in everything else you watch in more subtle ways. Every single day we're a little bit more happy, or a little bit more angry, or bitter, or inspired, or lonely, or sad, or courageous --- and when we change, so do the films and TV shows that we take on our journeys, they look a little different.

Care to share?

Saturday 8 January 2011


If you want to know something about composing music for film or television, you ask SHAWN CLEMENT. You can use many labels to describe him; award-winning, work-o-holic, obsessed with music. My favorite definition to describe him is: artist. 

Shawn picked up a guitar when he was 12, and he's barely had a moment since without music being at the centre of his life. Incredibly, he has over 150 IMDB credits as a composer; with work on a diverse range of projects such as 'BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER," and "QUANTUM QUEST." As he shares later in this interview, he was also a key-player in developing the sound and styles we have come to expect from reality-based television shows. 

You don't need to be a composer to get something from this interview. Shawn's wisdom and experience as a writer and composer is applicable to all creative fields, which makes this a must-read. 

KID IN THE FRONT ROW: Every time I catch up with you it seems like you’ve scored another 10 projects or something, and I just wondering how the hell you find the time to do all this work?

SHAWN CLEMENT: Well I don’t really know, I tend to work pretty fast. You get a lot of projects and the deadlines always freak you out, but  the schedules always seem to shift and move and you always find a way to do it. I’ve been very fortunate to pluck a lot of projects and stuff like that but it’s truly never been an issue. It’s a lame answer.

Are there ever any complications with projects overlapping with each other or does it tend to work out?

Yes, that does happen, things tend to work out but there are times when things are really nutty and you’re on five or six different projects and everyone’s wanting their stuff right now and it's all stressful but you just kind of make it happen. About 4 years ago I was literally doing 9 projects at the same time and I was like, what am I thinking, this is nuts! Every single one of them was completely different and they were all overlapping, it was about a month or so where they were all happening and it was insane. I have a very good assistant and a couple of interns and stuff so all the other work that has to be done they kind of help out with all that kind of stuff so I can concentrate on writing.

How do you keep your mind focus creatively on each project? Most people would find that very difficult. It’s hard enough to focus on one project let alone all these different things. How do you do that?

I have a really short attention span. For me if I’m doing the same thing over and over I get really bored and that makes it hard for me to focus. When you have multiple projects with different styles and you have a limited window it kind of makes me focus more, cause then I go OK, this needs to get done today, I’m in this zone I’m locked in here and I'm all about that project. Then I can move on to the next one because now I’m doing something completely different. That is kind of how my mind works, obviously is not day to day switching projects, you might be spending 5 days on this one project, deliver that stuff give them time to review it you jump on to the other gig you get into that whole world. For me it’s harder when you’re doing the same thing over and over and over, I go bananas, I go OK, I can’t do another action cue right now, I just can’t. You make it happen either way but I like changing gears a lot.

Would you say that there is a particular style that characterises your work- obviously you do such vastly different things but is there any kind of something similar about them that’s a Sean Clement touch or are they all just completely different.

I’d like to think that everything I write has a sound to it that’s unique to me, I mean, I hope so. I tend to be very aggressive with the way I write. I have certain subtleties in the way I write that you can tell it’s something I did. As far as things I really love to work on, that’s hard to say I tend to like darker things or things that are more involved more layered. I’m a pretty ??? kind of person, I really like a lot of colours and things like that. When there’s a project that allows me to just kind of go out there, that’s always a blast. However, I mean, lately I’ve been doing a lot of these small Indy type films and the music has been simpler and it’s kind of been cool because you have to say the same thing using less and that’s a different type of challenge. I’m getting older too, I mean I’m not old but I’m just saying when you age you start painting differently and all the experience you have from doing past things you can now do 3 notes and get the same effect. That’s kind of interesting too. It’s not really a straight answer but whatever I do whether it’s a comedy, and action Sci-Fi or whatever it is, I definitely like to think there’s a certain sound to it that I no matter what it is you go on to my kind of cue.

Interesting you talking about doing indie projects and stuff. I always think the relationship between a director and a composer is a very complex thing, and I find it more difficult, for example when I’m making films that when I’m working with a director of photography, for me getting the relationship right and the creative thinking right between me and the composer is difficult. The question to ask you is, what are you looking for personally when you’re working with a director.

Well that's a really good question. The main thing, on any kind of film or TV show -- the thing that everyone needs to serve is the film, what's right for the film. At the end of the day a film is it's own living and breathing creature. What does the film look like? What is it doing? You have to serve the film first.

Everyone has their vision, of course the director does because it's their project. It's a hard language, a director talking to a composer-- I like to get to know the director on a personal level, aside from the film. You're trying to get the sensibility of the director but you gotta kind of understand where that person's coming from, to understand what he's trying to say. This is kind of a lame example but -- say you're on a project and you're trying to talk about score, and all the director keeps talking about it songs. That's a common problem, especially in the indie world, It usually means they don't really understand what a score and song is. So rather than try to figure that out directly, I just get to know the director. Why do they like these songs? what is the feeling they're trying to get? What is all that? Then I find, okay, he likes to go to this place, go to this club, he likes this scene. Then it makes sense. It's not necessarily these songs he likes, but there's a certain feeling he's getting-- how does it relate to this film? It's almost like a psychological analysis! I think as a composer you really have to be good at that. It's part of figuring out what they really want, what's behind it.

I don't think people realise the amount of work that goes into being a composer. Do you think people understand what you do?

No. Even composers don't realize until they get into it. Writing the music is the easy part, but everything else is the real work, the difficult part. To figure out how to get what everyone wants, put your spin on it, and do what's write for the film. That's the tricky part. It's a ton of work.

Also, the amount of budget allocated to this music department. You never get what you need, right? Often the music is treated like an afterthought, like 'oh right, we'll get to that'. I guess that's become part of it now -- or are you always trying to challenge that wisdom?

Budget is always a problem, it's a nightmare. I don't understand it. I'm always talking to young filmmakers who I'm working with, and upcoming filmmakers and I always explain you have to plan the whole thing from front to back; and they never think about post period. That's half your movie! It's such an integral part, and you can't skip it. I think filmmakers really get caught up on getting the right shot, or whatever-- but post is a giant part of your film. It's like, you really shouldn't have made your movie, or really scaled back to include it.

You said it kind of best, it's like an afterthought, and it really shouldn't be. It's funny because, a lot of deals I've been doing on these indie films -- I don't want anyone coming to me saying they have no money, cause then, well, you have no score.

I've also been producing more in the last couple of years, I have a real good business head. So I'm putting together budgets and I don't really see what the problem is, there should be money for this stuff: and there is.

A lot of composers bend too easily. They say 'okay, fine' - but it's not. We have real expenses too, and we have to have expenses and gear, and it costs money. So when you can't make any money, it's like -- what's the point in doing this? It makes it hard because you want to do a great job but when you have all these constraints--- y'know, limitations make you create more that's for sure, but it can get to the point where it's impossible, and I just can't give you what you want, we don't have it, and that's a shame you know.

Now of course, a lot of people are making short films, it's just creative people getting together, with no money - including a composer. So they'll work for free. But I think sometimes they get into that mentality; they've done three or four short films for free, and then someone asks them to do a feature; and they do it..

The problem's been around a long time. It was there when I started out, it was there back in the 50's. One of my all time idols is Bernard Hermann and I was reading about him -- and back them he was complaining about tight budgets. It's always been there, but it's worse now. When a composer keeps doing that, not only does it devalue the music and their services, but there's no respect for the composer. Everyone is always like 'hey, we'll get you on the next one' but they never do. Unfortunately a lot of younger composers don't believe that when you tell them.

When I started out it was the same thing. I was a starving musician, I got offered gigs and they wouldn't pay. So I wouldn't do the gig. They were like 'how dare you?' but I had to pay rent. And the time I spent doing that I could do a job and pay my bills, which is exactly what I did. But what happened was, I did the gigs anyway and got paid.I gambled, but I won a whole lot more than I lost. I lose a lot of gigs lately due to people who do it for free, but great; I'm not going to do it for free. It doesn't make any sense, unless it's a friend or there's something you're passionate about. Just my opinion!

Looking more specifically at your work; I think a lot of people know your music from 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer'-- would you say that was a particularly important of your career?

Yeah, it was one part. It definitely had a high profile, and creatively it was awesome. What was really cool about the project was I got to work with a lot of great people, and creatively really ran the gambit of styles -- there were romance elements, action elements; all sorts in one show. And of course it was a popular show, and that kind of raised awareness of me I guess. But yeah; it was really cool.

At the same time Buffy was happening, or just before, I was doing a lot of shows for Fox, a lot of police-chase shows, and that was actually the beginning of reality TV shows but it wasn't even called that. The significant thing about that, is it was the beginning of a whole new genre and I got to lay down what would become the soundscape for reality shows. I mean, I didn't know it'd happen at the time but then it exploded. They both happened at the same time, and I think that ironically boosted my career more than Buffy did. I was working for the Studios, and on nearly every network on television.

I always think the best work you're going to create is when you emotionally relate to the thing you're creating-- but when you're doing music for a police show, or 'American Idol' or something, it's got to be different, right? Is it harder to motivate yourself for that kind of work?

On every project I try to find the thing I can relate too. Of course, the better the project the more passionate you'll be -- that's like any creative thing you do. I'm more drawn to doing movies and stories so yeah-- that's true, it's easier to relate to that, and find something in you that relates to that character or the story.

With the police stuff and chase shows at the beginning-- I looked at them as action movies. It was like, okay, I'm going to write this big orchestral action score. That was my approach-- I look at it as if it were a film. But you're right, for me, if you can really get into something you're going to write more from your heart. But going back to what I said earlier on - you do what's right for the project. That tells you beyond anything what has to happen.

Tell me about your home studio - it sounds great.

It's an interesting place. I have a small ranch, about forty minutes North of Los Angeles. I'm a big nature person, an animal freak. So I wanted to have space, wanted to have my animals and wanted to be able to work where I could be comfortable and do what I want to do. The studio itself is a hodge-podge of things. It's old gear, new gear, prototype gear -- it's kind of all over the map. A lot of different types of equipment. I still use big mixing boards and all that, and I have all the latest crazy software stuff.

Technically my studio is wired completely bizarre. If you were in here it's easier to explain-- but, the idea is that I can recall a piece of music I wrote fifteen years ago It'd be exactly the same. In order to do that, when I get new gear, I never get rid of old gear.

I have tons of crazy guitars and odd instruments. Everything in here gets used.

How do you switch off from working? Is it easy to say 'it's the end of the day,' being that you work from home?

Not really. For me the work is 24/7. I'm a work-aholic. I do try to shut certain things off at night. Lately I've been doing that. As it gets to eleven o'clock, midnight, I'll chill and watch some TV or whatever; or spend some time with the dogs or horses and stuff. It's really hard, because you're always on. Even if I go to an event or a party, you're schmoozing looking for work. It's like a never ending job.

Do you get tired? Do you get the rest you need?

You never sleep. I'm always fried. It's not just me -- you talk to any composers who are working, you never sleep. There's no holiday, no vacation.

Were you always like this as a kid, a teenager?

I started playing guitar when I was 12. By the time I was 13 I was gigging all the time with bands and always working. If I wasn't rehearsing or gigging, I was practicing. Never went to school, I skipped constantly. Always doing the music thing. It's always been a drive-- I'm very driven to do that.

I get bored really quit, so I keep busy all the time. I've always wanted to work - it's like an addiction!

Do you feel satisfied when you're working on a project, or are you looking forward to the next thing?

That's a really interesting question. I'm satisfied to a degree, because I'm working. But you always want that next gig, the better gig. And if the gig isn't that great you're not really satisfied. You're glad to be paid to write music but you really want something you can dig into. So the satisfied part is a tough question.

I know you're exec-producing a TV series called 'Masters Of Sound' - what can you tell us about that?

Right now it's still in development. We shot a pilot, and we're still trying to sell the show, so there's not a lot I can say about it but the main idea is, it's highlighting and focusing on the engineers and producers who made all the great records. We know the artists, but it's the guys behind the boards who made these records happen. They're artists in their own right. Some of these guys and the things they've done are incredible. Especially with some of the older guys, while they're still here and can talk about it. These guys invented how we hear things, and how things are recorded. Some of the classic records. For me it's awesome because I get to meet and hang out with people who I idolized as a kid.

What would you like to achieve in the next ten years?

More feature work. I'd like to get more into the studio films, and working more and more with budgets that allow me to have live orchestra and live musicians. Part of the cool thing, being any kind of artist, is you always want to have challenges. And the way you keep challenging yourself is to work with better people. I want to keep doing that. That's what makes you grow and get more excited.

For young people starting out now who want to be composers; what advice do you have for someone who wants to do what you do and is just starting out?

That's a tough one. The thing I always say -- the question they've gotta ask themselves is: why do you want to do this for a living? If the answer is 'I want to make a lot of money' go find another job, you'll never make it. You have to go through so much just to get anything in this business. You have to just want to go and do it. I always say that even if I never made a dime, I'd still be sitting here doing this, because it's what I do.

You need a thick skin and perseverance. The competition is way high, there's way to many guys out here trying to do this, and it gets tougher and tougher every day. My advice is, you've got to give it time, you gotta be a team player, and you've got to be a super sociable creature. It's a relationship business. A lot of artists and composers are introverted, but you gotta get out of that quick. People have to like you. A lot of people get gigs, not because their music's good but because people like hanging out with them. That's always been the case. Often the best music doesn't always win, and often times it never even gets heard.

Does that frustrate you or do you deal with it now?

You're never just okay with it. It always happens. It's just the way it is though. You get rejected more times than not, it's insane. I have classic stories of being turned down by people and some of the stuff that was said to you; it makes you want to slit your throat. But you've got to pick yourself up and keep moving forward. You have to be realistic, if someone's got constructive feedback, listen to it.

When you start out, especially, you don't know anything. You get these kids who come out of school and think they know everything about film scoring. But you're a kid, you don't know anything! Yeah, you went to school and learned all this stuff, but it doesn't really mean anything. You have to understand film, you have to understand people, and all this other stuff. But you really learn as you grow. People have to be cognizant of that. There's all these other parts to composing, it's not about writing music all the time, it's all these other things, and life experiences which help you write better.

Care to share?

Friday 7 January 2011

WWOZ NEW ORLEANS Is Where I Find My Heaven

"And there goes the last DJ
Who plays what he wants to play
And says what he wants to say
Hey, hey, hey
And there goes your freedom of choice
There goes the last human voice
There goes the last DJ"
-Tom Petty

WWOZ is a Jazz Station that broadcasts from New Orleans. It's amazing that to find a radio station that feels like home, I have to listen to one in a different continent to me. It's even more amazing how fresh and new and original it is, especially considering most of their playlist is pre-1950.

I'm not even a big Jazz fan. I know the names Benny Goodman and Harry James -- but then so do everyone. WWOZ is special. It's about the music. It's the only station I know that is about the music. Sometimes I HATE what they play, but most of the time I am truly blown away! Radio sucks these days. We all listen to the same thing and we're told what is good and every now and again we find something that sounds unique or interesting to us -- but what is it really? It's just another version of John Mayer or David Gray--- but WWOZ is something special.

"There are only two things: love, all sorts of love, with pretty girls, and the music of New Orleans or Duke Ellington. Everything else ought to go, because everything else is ugly. " 
-Boris Vian

It's crazy when you think about it. We have this heritage of music-- in particular, in regard to WWOZ; it's Jazz. What is Jazz? I don't even know what it means to be Jazz, or what qualifies. But the instruments, the sounds, the recordings, the voices, the LIFE -- God, it's just amazing how much life is in this music. How are we not listening to this stuff every day? How did we get to the point that a few corporations owned all the stations and played the same tracks on repeat to us? I mean, I like Rod Stewart; but how comes they ended up just playing the same three hits of his again and again? Who decided radio should be this way? When did we just give up on wanting to hear something inspiring and ALIVE and powerful?

In New Orleans it's about the music. They live it. They breath it. Someone dies, and they bring a brass band to the funeral. This is why I love the internet -- when we remember to get off Facebook, we find gems like WWOZ. For those who think time travel doesn't exist, you haven't lived! A man can play a saxophone in 1938, and I can be jogging in 2010 and listening to a live recording in my headphones.

Sometimes they play stuff I don't like -- but that's better than commercial radio.. you don't like or dislike what you listen to on the normal stations, you just play it and listen along to the same Lionel Richie song and whatever new song Miley Cyrus has released.

WWOZ matters. I'm just glad it exists. Because it's not meant to be around anymore. We got rid of music a long time ago.

"And you may think you control things
But there'll be more just like me
Who won't give in
Who'll rise again"
-Tom Petty

Care to share?