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Friday 29 April 2011

Notes From His Royal Highness The Kid In The Front Row

On this, thy fine evening, myself, my majesty, The Kid, after such regal and prosperous an occasion for forthwith, ofwith, onwith my country; I found myself on my own, in thy room, enjoying a cuisine known to the British, remarkably, as cereal. Thy fine dining, on my ownself forthwith made me realise, majestically and especially, that my life is perhaps lacking in what can only be described as: a woman.

Therefore, especially, and becomingly, and belligerently; I have decided upon which the future of my feelings, is to be, and to see and to hold and to be the Prince, of my affections for my darling, here standing; being, of course, not to mention-- that I shall, in all my royal worth; be looking to, shall we say, be dating and be doing of night time activities in private, with none-other than the remarkable and wonderful sister of thy Royal subject, herein, therein, of-in, within -- I shall be making my plans accordingly to win the heart of Pippa Middleton, sister of Her Royal Highness the Kate of England who famously, and elegantly, and beautifully married into the mad family who live in the big palaces.

Hereforth, my dear followers and admirers and servants; I shall be hoping to win the heart and body and anything else, herestanding, notwithstanding, while hopefully she's still standing -- of Lady Middleton, the sister, the hot one.

His Royal Highness The Kid In The Front Row of England.

Thursday 28 April 2011

Did T-Mobile Steal The Royal Wedding Video Idea?

In my previous post, I shared a T-mobile viral advert and labelled it as 'genius'. But when you say something like that, you are implying the idea was genius. That some clever creative person at T-Mobile came up with a great idea. But my blogger friend Ophelia opened my eyes to something different.

Watch this.

Now watch the T-Mobile one again.

Sure, T-Mobile's is better; they've got Royal lookalikes, a better song, and a wave of hype. But Jill and Kevin got there first, in 2009. Maybe others did too, maybe there was someone who influenced them. I don't know. But I definitely know, it wasn't T-Mobile's idea.

I should have realised. T-Mobile are a fucking awful phone company. Everyone I know in the UK who has a brain is with o2, or Orange. Jill and Ken's wedding video has seventy million views. There's no way T-Mobile came up with their idea without being influenced by this. The camera is in the same place, some of the dances are the same.

My blog is mostly about independent film, about artists. I feel like an idiot. It was only a few hours ago that I labelled the work of the corporates 'genius'. T-Mobile won a lot of fans with that video. There are millions of people around the world who feel a little more taken now with the T-Mobile brand, they're a little cooler than they were. But that's corporations for you. It's about greed.

T-Mobile need to add something to the video saying 'inspired by' or 'written by' or 'influenced by'. Or something. But they won't, I'm sure. 

Additional Note: There's been research done on T-Mobile's Wedding Video. 21% of people think it is 'innovative'. 'A further one in five associate T-mobile and the Royal Wedding viral with “original” and “innovative”'. This is how the big brands score -- they make everyone like them, and want their products; and it all begins with an idea stolen from someone else.

Here are the credits for the Royal Wedding video:

"The Royal Wedding spot was developed at Saatchi & Saatchi London by creative director/copywriter Paul Silburn, art director Lovisa Almgren-Falken, and agency producer James Faupel.
Filming was shot by director Chris Palmer via Gorgeous, London, with producer Michaela Johnson.
Editor was Paul Watts at The Quarry, London. Post production was done at The Mill, London. Audio post production was done at Grand Central Studios."
No mention of the people they ripped off. What are your thoughts?

The T-Mobile Royal Wedding Video Is GENIUS!

I am so jealous of the people who make these, who conceive of the ideas. This video is absolutely marvellous (I have not used the word marvellous in a long time, and even had to check the spelling).

I wrote about a viral video called Sexy Sax Man a little while ago. I wrote "That's why this video is so funny. Because it's a big fuck you to the man. The Sexy Sax Man is above the law. He's being creative and hilarious in a way we rarely are in our well-planned, carefully constructed lives. He shows a side of us we crave for. He's liberated. And for the five minutes we're watching, we're liberated too." And I think the same things apply to the T-Mobile Royal Wedding Video. 

Sure, everyone will be watching the wedding when it happens tomorrow, but it'll be boring as hell. Loads of Royal people walking into a Church, sitting down, and listening to all the boring stuff. When we're at weddings, we get so bored and just want to get to the meal afterwards-- but tomorrow we're sitting down to watch this and we don't even know the participants. It's crazy.

But this video breaks free of all the Royal rules. We get to imagine a different wedding. And when you think about it --- the wedding could be this way. I mean, why not? Humans came to Earth, just another piece of nature, and then as time went on we got more and more rigid, self-aware, and boring. The way we walk down a street, the way we greet a friend, these aren't natural, they're socially conditioned. It could easily have been that men have ponytails and women kick a ball around a football pitch. But society went a different way. Most of what we do is acting. Acting and restraining. That's how we've decided to live.

So when we see a good viral video, like this one, we see a part of our nature that we oppress. I am not a dancer, not at all; I'm a writer who sits in a corner and avoids conversations. But a part of me would love to come flying down the isle like Prince William does in this video. It's in me somewhere, it's in you too, whether you believe me or not.

And that's the reoccuring theme with viral videos. They're a new art form which expresses the little tiny parts of ourselves that get amused by absurdity, or by betraying authority, or by seeing Prince Charles and Camilla getting their groove on. I guess the lesson is that we should try and inhabit a bit more of the spirit of the characters in this video, but the likelihood is that we won't. 

Wednesday 27 April 2011

The Past Is Gone

I walked past my old primary school today. I think you Americans call it Elementary School. Anyway, it's the place I stopped going to when I was eleven.

It's similar to how it was but it's not the same. They've replaced the windows, built a new classroom and taken out the shed (which I mentioned a few days back in my Steptoe & Son post).

These little pieces of school that existed in my head are gone. They don't exist in the real world, only in my mind. The reality is a building with new windows and a paranoid metal fence. And it means nothing to me. The picture in my head means everything.

Pretty soon everything changes. The years go by and the buildings fall apart and everyone looks twenty years older. And a while after that the buildings are gone and the people are too.

And you capture this image of life and you keep it in your mind because it's the only thing that's real even though it doesn't exist at all.

You can get married or find a soulmate, you can even talk to someone you knew when you were small. But they saw something else. Their lives are a photograph of a place of a town that existed once, and just for a while.

Nothing lasts. It evaporates into thin air. And then it's someone else's turn.

BRITAIN'S GOT TALENT: Michael Collings

Talent isn't about the fake tan. It's not about being thin. It's not about marketing yourself a certain way. That's what they've been telling us for years, but it's meaningless. If you get the breast implants and create your new 'image' you'll do great, but you'll do great for six months, and then you won't mean anything anymore. You'll capture a moment in time, you'll align yourself with what's selling at the moment; but then you're dead. No-one cares. Fashion moves too quickly.

Real talent is about being yourself. It's about dedication. Michael Collings came on to Britain's Got Talent and he blew EVERYONE away.

Here's what's tricky. Last year, on 'X Factor' - there was a 16 year old girl called Cher Lloyd. And she was fascinating. She had talent and she had a heart. Her singing and style was unconventional. But it wasn't quite honest enough; she wasn't quite sure of who she was, of what she was meant to be - she was searching for an image. This should be fine, because she was sixteen! At that age you should be exploring who you are without becoming a marketing phenomenon. But X Factor ended up taking anything that was unique about the girl and turned her into a bland pop star. As soon as they did that, the magic was gone.

What Michael Collings brought to the show was undeniable. He's not the best looking guy in the world, and as the ever-so-perfect-looking-judge, Amanda Holden quipped, "he looks like he's going on a long haul flight," but five seconds later, the moment he started singing; he connected with the audience in a way that is more profound than all of Amanda Holden's career.

Michael dressed in the way that's most comfortable to him. And when they asked "what is your dream?" he told them about how he wants to tour all over the world-- they looked at him like he was insane; which is a shame, because he said it in such a wonderful and rare way; no ego, no absent minded dreaming, he was just a man with a talent who replied as honestly as he could. 

And he can actually play guitar. 

The timer on the video shows he started singing on 2:08. Before 2:10 hits, the audience react in a massive way. It's a way I can't fully explain. It's not a "wow, you can sing!" cheer, although that is part of it. More than anything, he just hits them in the gut, in the heart. They can hear themselves, and their lives, in his voice. 

And suddenly this guy, this nineteen year old kid on a bullshit talent show; suddenly he is representing all the parts of us that are ugly, that dress badly, that don't quite fit in. And immediately; he's an artist. He's taken who he is and what he's been through, and he's let it all out to an audience. Everyone in the seats are shocked, the presenters, Ant & Dec, are blown away, and the ego's of the judges of talent are knocked down hugely. But I don't mean to make them out to be evil, just human -- that moment on 2:24 when we see Amanda Holden's reaction; she looks beautiful because she's beautiful, because she's vulnerable and human; and we don't always see that with her.

Sure, it's a cover song. But he makes it his own. I didn't even know you could make a Tracy Chapman song your own. But his choice of song says everything about him. He didn't pick a Maroon 5 track or a recent Beyonce hit. He delved into something more meaningful. And it's riskier. The audience was made up of seventeen year olds who, for the most part, probably don't even know the song. But it didn't matter. 

Michael Collins doesn't look like a pop star. He doesn't look like people are meant to look on TV. Instead, he looked and sounded like himself. And I've watched his video about thirty times since I first saw it, because I think he's fantastic, and a reminder of how brilliant we can all be when we be ourselves and do what we are truly capable of. 

"I had a feeling that I belonged."
-Tracy Chapman

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Random 10

1. I missed the beginning of a movie the other day because the guy in the corridor thought I asked for 'Scream 4' when I asked for screen 4.

2. I gave a talk over Skype to a college in Wisconsin a few weeks back, and today I received a thank you card signed by everyone. That absolutely made my day.

3. Easter Egg for breakfast. I'm considering it. Will see how I feel in the morning.

4. I've been resisting but I'm tempted to get on board with this whole Royal Wedding thing. It's a media phenomenon and I guess there's a lot to learn from it. And it's romantic and all that crap.

5. I wrote a blog last night, which I didn't post, because it was weak. This happens quite a lot, whether it's blogging or screenwriting, a lot is garbage. But as this is a random blog post today, here's my unwanted baby:


Woah, don't you just love the night? All your problems stay gone for that golden hour at about 3am when it's too late to be tired and too early to be concentrating. You listen to a song and all you have to do in the world is listen to that song.

All your problems are gone, forgotten, left to the daylight. You can really hear the song. And you've found quiet. It's so quiet that you hear everything so loud.

Daylight is about worrying, and making the sale and the compromise and proving you're right and wishing you were wealthier. The nighttime is spent thinking about those things.

But not that moment at 3.14am when you hear the subtle whirrings of life outside your window. Suddenly everything makes sense and peace is yours.

Be happy if you witness this. It's the glory afforded to persistent insomniacs, but only if they're lucky. You can't plan for it or look for it, but once in a while you find the spirit of the night breezing into your life at 3am and it's everything.

6. The producer of my latest project and me have different instincts on everything. I just wanna hide away until the shoot and then get on with the job. But I'm not Woody Allen, I'm not successful enough. I have to chat to investors and be smiley and all that stuff. I'm not so good with that. I mean, I'm passable, but generally uncomfortable.

7. Most of the music I listen to was recorded by the fans in the back of arenas, hiding their microphones from the security staff. There's just something great about live recordings. Not the perfect official releases, but the rareties from some gig in 1997. I think, in an ideal world, I want my films to capture that feeling. That feeling of an extended version of your favourite song, where the band improvise some magic that existed in the moment, for the moment, because of the moment. We're just lucky it got captured. I want to make films that are like that. Somehow.

8. If you make a comedy, your first time will never get the laughs you want. It's a misunderstood art form. It's harder than anything. People will cry before they'll laugh.

There's nothing worse than your jokes dying in a cinema. But it is satisfying when, despite cold silence, one person TOTALLY gets it.

9. Perfect example of the bootleg music. Adam Duritz is singing a Robyn Hitchcock song, 'She Doesn't Exist Anymore' and I didn't realize music coming out of my phone could sound so good.

And this song will break your heart. Especially this version, from this show. Email me and I'll hook you up.

10. I like that you are all here. That you come back. There's so much content on the net. So many people writing about the same things I write about and its amazing to me that you're here. I massively appreciate it and hope I please more than I fail. Thanks for sticking around.


Jealousy is the strangest beast. It lives inside of almost everyone, and it shapes and effects your relationships, your creativity, and your happiness in ways you can never predict.

And it comes along the minute you start pulling out and doing something different. If you act in a TV show, or write an inspiring article, or get invited to Will & Kate's wedding; sure, some people will be happy for you, some will be supportive, but some will be insanely jealous.

It can manifest itself in wildly different ways. Some people are obvious; they inhabit a wild inner monster and they storm forth criticising your work, denying your abilities, laughing at your efforts. Other times, it's more subtle. It can come as a withdrawal of support. The disappearance of the love.

They're both difficult to deal with. The angry monster version will often retract their words, or say "I only told you you're a talentless writer because I care and because I want the best for you". But of course, they've already attacked, they've bitten into you, only there's no prison for the jealous, apart from their own minds.

Similarly, the passive one who handles their jealousy through silence, through indifference, they're hurting you but in the process; they're also making themselves more miserable. People are jealous when they feel threatened. When they worry you're going to Hollywood and they're not, or your short story won the prize and theirs didn't quite cut it.

We all have it in us. Sometimes we're almost evil, vicious. It's hard to love. It's harder to admire. It's much easier to ridicule, to assume something bad about someone, to paint a picture which allows you to look down upon another.

Jealousy is a self fulfilling prophecy. If you're jealous that someone sold a script, or bought a big boat, or went on a great date; you're jealous because they are the things you want. But the act of jealousy and the horribleness you inflict pushes you further away from your goals.

When someone achieves something, it's a reflection on their talent and dedication. Or maybe it's not, maybe it's luck, or an injustice -- but it has nothing to do with your own journey.

Jealousy is when someone, without provocation, sabotages or criticises something they wish they achieved or owned or had access too. It's their own shit. And if they withdraw their support, you can't take that person's problems personally. You have to let them go, carry on forth. Your support, for the most part, needs to be internal. This industry, and most of life, is full of rejection. It's hard when it comes from people you dislike, it's worse when it comes from someone you respect. But when they're jealous, you know you're really achieving.

As for ourselves, when we see someone doing good work, we need to tell them. Especially when they make our jealous-monster's awaken. Most people who are doing something good, or personal, or meaningful-- they are not getting the support they need. Despite the fantasticness of the lives they are creating, they are met only with the disdain of the envious people around them. Go a different way, tell them how magnificent they are. You'll help them be great, quicker, and you'll feel better inside.

Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself.
-Mary Schmich

Monday 25 April 2011

ELI ATTIE - Writer Interview

Eli Attie has written for 'The West Wing', 'Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip' and more recently, on 'House'. Prior to that, he worked for President Bill Clinton, and he was the chief speechwriter for Al Gore, from 1997, right up until that fateful day in 2000, when he conceded the presidency to George W. Bush.

How do you think working in politics prepared you for working in television? It seems to me that they're worlds apart, but maybe your experience is different.

There's an old joke, which I may have stuck on The West Wing, that politics is dog-eat-dog while Hollywood is the exact reverse. In fact, it turns out that they are indeed worlds apart. I spent my last few years in Washington as a speechwriter, and because that word sounds a lot like "screenwriter" I mistakenly thought the two jobs would be similar. Screenwriting is largely about structure -- what you reveal to the audience, and when -- and also emotion and character. Speechwriting, and politics in general, is a kind of extended argument about the issue at hand. I suppose in both professions you're dealing with some big personalities, but that's true of many professions. I'm lucky I thought they were similar; if I'd realized how radically different Hollywood was I might not have made the switch.

What made you decide to move into entertainment, was you looking to get away from politics?

It was really because politics got away from me. I was working for Al Gore until the final moments of the Florida Recount. I was angry, burned out, demoralized after a stolen election, and a friend jokingly suggested screenwriting, which I'd never even considered. It was more of a lark at first, I just thought I'd spend a year or two in LA and go back to Washington.

One if the most recognizable things about The West Wing, was the writing style of Aaron Sorkin, and of course-- it's not something that can be imitated. Did the writers feel a lot of pressure after he left the show?

No question about that. Aaron's an auteur, a singular genius. I think the show generally fell short when writers tried to imitate him, because that can't really be done.

For me, Season 5 was a tricky one, but 6 and 7 were incredible television. I enjoyed different writer's episodes for different reasons. I began to recognise the voices of different writers.. for example, an episode by you was different to an episode by Deborah Cahn. But I'm really interested to know how it would work. How and why do writers get assigned episodes; and did you have a lot of input in each episode?

In that post-Aaron period, John Wells would choose the writers of the individual episodes, based on a general rotation and also how many episodes he wanted a given writer to do. In my memory, it was usually a fairly blank slate when you got the assignment -- maybe a few plot points that the group had decided upon, but you could really shape the themes and storylines as you wanted (with John overseeing them all and making sure they actually worked). I guess I just wrote about the events and emotions and ideas that had stuck with me from my time in politics, and it was inevitable that the individual writer's episodes would reflect that writer's voice and style. Because of my political background, I did contribute to lots of scripts beyond my own, during all five seasons I was on the show. Some of my favorite storylines were ones I didn't actually write.

After The West Wing  - were you apprehensive at all about moving away from political material?

I was eager to do it, actually, because I'd said so much of what I wanted to say about that subject matter. And at the end of the day, you can't tell a story about politics with the story itself -- a character's overconfidence, a disintegrating friendship, whatever it is that you weave in between the government acronyms. Those stories don't change very much, whether you're putting those characters in the White House, or a hospital, or on a flying saucer for that matter. Well, okay, maybe it's different on a flying saucer.

It's still devastating to me how Studio 60 got cancelled after one season. I thought it was fantastic. But what lessons can we take from this? Next time around, how can we make sure the great shows get to stick around?

TV is a brutal business. Lots of great shows just don't find an audience, for hundreds of reasons -- marketing, scheduling, whether or not they hit the right moment in the zeitgeist. If I knew the real answer to this question, I'd start my own TV network.

Where do your writing ideas come from? What inspires you?

The best writing is at least a little bit autobiographical, I think. But ideas tend to come from everywhere -- something you read in the paper, something that happened to you the week before, a song you hear on the radio that reminds you of a time of your life. You just have to stay open to the ideas that are all around you, flying through the air, in a sense -- and it helps to be on a really tight deadline.

What music do you like? Do you listen to music when you're writing?

I listen to music constantly -- everything from acoustic blues and early Americana to British Invasion to punk rock to modern alternative rock -- but never when I'm actually writing. But sometimes, the mood or idea of a song can carry over into what you're writing.

When you were writing for Bill Clinton, or Al Gore, how much of that comes from inspiration? And how much of YOU is in what you write?

Not very much of the speechwriter should be in a political speech. You're trying to capture the spirit and pulse and passion of another person, right down to the punctuation. Plus, you have to remember that it's not your intellectual property at the end of the day. For someone like Al Gore, the speechwriter exists only because he's too busy to be hunched over a computer screen all day. That's not to say you can't have an influence, but that shouldn't be how you approach the task.

Have you written any feature film screenplays? Is that something you're interested in?

I do have one original screenplay that's set up at a studio right now, called "Smile Relax Attack," but it's a tricky indie-type film and I can't say if it'll ever get made. I've done uncredited rewrite work on some other people's movies, and I'd like to do more original work when I get the time.

I still like to hold on to the notion of screenwriting being an art-form. A singular voice. There's something heartbreaking about someone's screenplay getting re-writes, but I realize it's the nature of the industry. Do you think re-writes for the most part improve screenplays, or do you think there are times when they ruin what is on the page?

It really depends. Some movies are based on the voice of the author, and all you're going to do by tampering with it is ruin it. Those kinds of movies don't get rewritten very much to begin with. But most Hollywood movies are driven more by plot and action than any kind of voice. Sometimes, a little rewrite work can help a confused plot, or give a character a more distinctive personality, or simply slip in a few more good lines. It's not a bad thing in itself. Even a movie written by a committee can be preferable to one that doesn't quite make sense.

How do you, as a writer, get into the head of the characters?

If the character is strongly defined, they really can help you tell your story. The good thing about working on a TV show is that you spend hours and hours with your colleagues talking and arguing about what each character should say or do or feel, so you get to know them really well, and that knowledge can spill right onto the page. There's some mimicry involved too; sometimes the actor's voice and bearing has everything to do with how you write a certain line, or shape a certain scene. But often the story ideas start in your own head, from your own experience or observation, and then have to be transplanted into the character's world and idiom.

Hugh Laurie has such a specific way of talking in 'House' - is it difficult to get the tone right?

The voice of House is very much the voice of David Shore, the show's wonderfully funny and talented creator. I love writing for the character, but David is always right there, making sure the tone is pitch-perfect, and adding hilarious lines that make me look better than I should when my name flashes on the screen.

Who is your favorite writer?

That's hard to say. Paddy Chayefsky, maybe? Mamet? I've of course been lucky enough to work for some of my favorite writers in this business too. Which is why I wanted to work for them.

Do you have any plans to create your own show at some point?

No specific plans, and I've had such wonderful jobs as a staff writer on other people's shows, but it's something I'd like to try.

After your two very different careers -- in which do you think you have a better chance of inspiring people --- television, or politics?

I would have to say politics. Because TV and movies are, at the end of the day, entertainment; you should shut them off when the real people walk into the room. Politics can really transform people's lives, sometimes even save people's lives. The greatest episode of the greatest TV show is no match for the creation of Medicare.

If Al Gore had made it to The White House, I'm guessing your career would be a lot different now. Is that something you ever think about?

If I think too much about what it meant for the country, I'd be in therapy for the rest of my life, maybe even longer. In terms of my own career, you really never know where things will lead. I kind of stumbled into politics, just as I stumbled into Hollywood. Hard to think very much about the past when I barely have a grasp on the future.

I also spoke to Eli last year, about John Spencer, who played Leo McGarry in 'The West Wing' - you can read his poignant words HERE.

Sunday 24 April 2011

STEPTOE & SON - Steptoe and Me

I was ten years old and I randomly came across an old TV show on the BBC. It was black and white, which is not something I had time for. But before I had a chance to change the channel, it had me laughing.

It was STEPTOE & SON. I remember the episode very specifically, it was the episode where Albert turns 65.

Everyone has that story about how they first saw a movie when they were 4 and it changed their life forever. I don't have that story. But maybe this was that moment. I don't remember much TV or film from my childhood, at least not in any special way. But I do remember Steptoe & Son.

I would get to school early on a Tuesday, or whatever day it was, and I would sit up against the old shed at the back of the playground and recall the previous night's episode with my friend, Stewart. I don't remember much about Stewart, if anything at all, apart from the fact he also loved Steptoe & Son.

I wasn't a screenwriter at ten years old. I didn't direct films. And I didn't consciously have any tastes (although I was developing a bit of a taste for a girl called Victoria, but she showed no appetite). I wasn't as limited back then. I was free. And Steptoe & Son was glorious. We would watch every episode we could find, and we would talk about it non-stop, and I would impersonate Harold's voice.

Around a similar time, I found The Beatles. There I was, ten years old, and everything I loved was black and white. I didn't have to justify my preferences to anyone, and I didn't feel the need to tweet about it. I'd just watch and laugh and love.

I watched that episode yesterday. When Albert turned 65. It's not as funny to me now, but it has so many of the seeds that bloomed into things that would become a huge part of the essence of who I am. My sense of story, and character, and my love for comedy. Maybe it began that one night, when I accidentally caught an old episode of Steptoe & Son. Maybe that's why this blog is called Kid In The Front Row. Everything I've done since, is just about finding my way back to that feeling of joy that I felt when I discovered Harold & Albert Steptoe. 

Saturday 23 April 2011

Nora Ephron on Screenwriting

'The screenplay is the big plain pizza, the one with tomatoes and cheese. And then the director comes in and says "you know, it's needs mushrooms." And you put mushrooms on it, and the costume designer throws peppers on. And pretty soon you have a pizza with everything. Sometimes it's the greatest pizza of your life and sometimes you think 'that was a mistake, we should have left it with only the mushrooms.'
-Nora Ephron
Sleepless In Seattle, You've Got Mail, Julie & Julia

Friday 22 April 2011

No Fantasy

We're locked in, numb. We don't love enough. We don't risk enough. We don't fight for things.

That's where films come in. They paint our lives in all the colours we don't quite see.

We were better when we were kids. That's why we keep watching. We know It's in us.

Maguire. Brockovich. The Tramp. Gump. They're us. We see ourselves. We see our dreams.

Maguire took the risk. Brockovich fought the man. The tramp kept his curiosity, and Gump talked to strangers. They're the us we wanna be. The us we pretend to be.

We don't talk when we sit next to each other on a bench. We don't take the risk. And we don't fight the man and the injustice he perpetuates, we just write tweets about it.

Films show us the road to our better selves. They're all the parts we keep locked up in our broken hearts and resentful minds. The world fucked us over, again and again. Didn't get the job, didn't get the girl, didn't get to change the world.

Films are not unrealistic. They're not fantasies. They're more real than the bullshit that leaves us at home, all alone, complaining about everything the world did wrong.

Watch your favourite movie and then take that feeling, that essence, that thing that resonates with you and use it in your life.

Selected Entries From The Secret Diary Of Harry Flannel

Harry Flannel was one of the finest screenwriters ever to go an entire career without writing a single page. He did, however, manage to keep a diary, which gives us an insight into his creativity, his difficulties, and his penchant for roasted chestnuts.

Here are some selected entries from his memoirs.

February 6th 1994
I feel absolutely alive. This screenplay is going to be so good that it will knock the socks off people and then calmly place them back on. Not only is my idea fabulous, but It's guaranteed to win awards. I start writing tomorrow.

September 14th 2002
Sorry for the delay. Writing had to take a back seat while real life got in the way. Back in 1997 there was the whole pregnancy scare with Betsy, although it blew over (she assured me she'd never had sex with me and was pretty sure no other women had either). And then in the year 2000 I had a small case of writers block, which eventually disappeared (it is a very small case, no bigger than a baby panda, if you see it [the case, not the panda]). 

October 11th 2002
Tomorrow will be my first day of writing, although I'm a little concerned about the subject matter. I spoke briefly to my friend Kim Dwofly about the topic, and she told me that it would be frowned upon in many circles (and possibly some rectangles) but then I have always found her to be a bit of a square.

Tomorrow is the day.

October 17th 2002
I've been delayed by a few days. My pen went missing, meaning I was unable to write. I eventually found it behind the big giant immovable cupboard, which is coincidentally where my large notepad and laptop were. I'm beginning to think someone doesn't want me to write!

October 18th 2002
I was all set to begin writing today but came across a fabulous website that you must visit. Did you know that Kurt Cobain was actually killed by a Freemason called Barry Fernball? And did you know that JFK secretly married Elton John and that's why Estonia is really small? The Internet really is a fascinating place. And there are literally thousands of pictures of Minka Vladsty, the Russian porn star, although I've yet to see one of her face. Overall, a productive day. Although I've not written any of my script yet, this wealth of Internet knowledge and insight will undoubtedly help me implant some giant ideas into my bouncy screenplay.

October 25th 2002
I have just re-watched some Quentin Tarantino films. They're very inspiring to me as a writer, I absolutely love the way he doesn't tell his stories chronologically.

I feel it is important for me to share three key events from my week so far, but perhaps I should tell them in a more creative and Tarantinoesque way. I will tell the second story first, the third one second, and secondly the first story will be told thirdly and the reason is, firstly, that the third story will be told secondly, and secondly, as mentioned firstly, the first story will be told thirdly, so to avoid any confusion. (note: I am really beginning to sense my genius, the only problem is I now can't remember the three things I was going to share.)

November 2nd 2002
I was sitting next to my typewriter last night, chewing on some fresh roasted chestnuts, and feeling such a delight that God has blessed me with such undeniable talents. I have such a strong vision for this project; I think it will inspire young people, bring a complete end to prejudice in the world, and hopefully get me a date with Veronica Neff, who, back in 1994, said she finds there to be nothing more wonderful than a screenwriter. This was, along with my natural born talents, the reason I dedicated myself to writing the greatest screenplay ever, over eight years ago. 

January 19th 2009
As you may have noticed, a few years have passed. I wanted to wait for the idea to ripen, which it now has; and I am able to clearly see the arc of my main character for the first time. It is going to be shaped somewhat like a banana, but it is going to be more orange than yellow. Orange in colour, not in shape. Not that orange is a shape, but an orange itself does have a shape. Anyway, my point is; I have spent a lot of time building the arc of my character, and if you ever come to visit I will show you where I put it. 

November 1st 2010
You won't believe this. Today was to be the first day of writing the screenplay. I had prepared the paper, and my thoughts, and a small packet of freshly roasted chestnuts, when my world changed. I thought it would be a good idea to go to the shops to buy a bottle of water, because hydration is important for a writer, but what I bumped into made me wish I had stayed at home.

Just as I entered the store, I bumped into Veronica Neff, which caused a small amount of bruising (but after a few weeks I shall be fine). She seemed delighted to see me, as I did her. I decided to give her the fabulous news. "I am now a professional screenwriter!" I said. 
"That's great," replied my angel, "but what is a screenwriter?"

I looked at her like she was crazy. And then I said "you're crazy." She didn't say anything, so we stood there awkwardly. After five minutes, I decided to add something, "I thought you really like screenwriters?". She didn't have a clue what I was talking about. 

Turns out she liked screen readers. They were developed in the 1980's as a way of helping the visually impaired see computer keyboards. To add insult to serious bruising, she stopped liking screen readers in 1998, and I kept screen writing, hoping to impress her, for another twelve years. 

I am now putting my screenplay aside, to focus on other projects. 

New Permanent Sections On The Blog

I have added three permanent sections to the blog. Industry Interviews, Inspiration, and Short Stories. I hope you check them out. If not now, then you'll be able to find them forever more on the top left of the blog. 

Thursday 21 April 2011

What Projects Are You Currently Working On?

I do this occasionally here -- just a chance for us all to share a little bit of ourselves. You are more than welcome to share links but, more importantly; I'd like to hear from you personally on your creative projects. What are you working on or considering working on? What is inspiring you? What obstacles are you facing? 

Share anything you'd like to share about your projects in the comments section; It'll be great for everyone to read, and hopefully very inspiring. It doesn't have to be film based -- and, it doesn't have to be something big; maybe you have a poem you've been working on for a few months, or maybe you're about to start designing birthday cards, or maybe you're writing a screenplay for a studio and you're struggling on the third act. 

Whatever it is you're focusing on, or thinking of focusing on, or struggling to keep momentum with--- tell us about it! I look forward to hearing from you all!

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Twitter Disagreement

Earlier today there was a Twitter conversation between a well known film producer and a very talented screenwriter. I have kept the names anonymous for their privacy, and also because they're fictional.

Producer: Great redraft, but why did you kill the elephant on page 8?

Writer: The film is called 'Kill The Elephant'

Producer: We just got endorsement from the Foundation Of Large Animals. 20 million dollars. The elephant lives.

Writer: But page 9 to page 119 are about getting revenge for the elephant murder. What do you want me to do?

Producer: Sounds good.

Writer: What does?

Producer: Go for it. Keep it alive. Trust me. Need new draft, by lunch time. No rush.

Writer: If the elephant lives nothing makes sense anymore! How can Tasha end up with Andrew if the animal lives?

Producer: Kill Tasha. Kill Andrew. Must get elephant drinking Pepsi.

Writer: You want me to kill the main characters?? WTF. This is going to Fuck up movie!

Producer: lolz

Writer: I'm serious!

Producer: We'll save it in the edit.

Writer: I quit.

When Everyone Is Together

I'm not a big U2 fan. Although I did see them two nights in a row at Wembley Stadium -- but I didn't pay for the tickets. It's not the kind of thing you turn down.

But the one moment that got me, was exactly the same as this moment. I guess they did it throughout the tour.

This isn't a U2 song. But it's something that everyone knows.

When 90,000 people do something together, in agreement, the result is always beautiful. I remember that night, a few years back in Wembley-- feeling as close to religion as I can get. And you get a sense of it in this video too.

Is there anything better than a large crowd of people singing a beautiful song together?

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Dreaming And Fighting: Inner Battles Of A Writer

A lot has been written about creativity and writers block and inner criticism. And it can be helpful but also, in many ways, It's a lot of nonsense. I've written blog posts in the past on these topics and luckily people have found them helpful, but my regret is that I wrote them in an authoritative tone, like I'm a psychologist or something. My writing has changed a lot in these years, as time has passed, and I've been careful about how I give 'advice' because I think anyone who isn't Carl Jung needs to be careful about giving psychology tips, and anyone who isn't Steven Spielberg should realise they don't know everything about film.

I used to harp on about how we need to beat our inner critics, be positive and all that stuff. But I'll leave all that to the self-help industry and instead I'll speak more personally.

There is part of me that likes to dream, part of me that is determined and strict, and part of me that does the writing. Then there is another part of me that oversees all of this.

I'd imagine you have something similar.

If you want to be a writer, dreaming and having ideas, by itself, is meaningless. That's why you meet so many people who want to share their film ideas with you. They're just daydreamers. They don't have the discipline to write, or to learn how to write, or to suffer through ten years of abysmal writing.

The part of me that is determined and focused is hugely responsible for my often ferocious productivity, which I think you can see hints of in this blog. It's absolutely ruthless; demanding originality, variety and a high level of quality every time. In recent posts you'll see interviews, comedic stories, advice, dreamy stuff, reviews. Part of that is the disappointment I feel when I write something and don't nail it, or when I get little feedback. That part of me, in me, is always determined to do better.

But here's the problem: you can't daydream when your brain is shouting at you to be productive. You can't relax, can't pay attention to those around you and can't even eat properly. My writing is at It's best when I've been able to daydream about meeting a beautiful woman; or had my imagination rip into the notion of setting fire to the local police station while yelling in Norwegian.

But it's incompatible with the side of me that is in a rush to achieve, to work. That side will find any excuse: there's a deadline! You've never written anything good so hurry up and do so! We all die soon! You need to earn money! Etc.

So a huge part of writing is, I think, shutting out or calming the inner crazy disciplinarian.

But without having him there, a day of daydreaming turns into four years of never completing anything.

They need each other.

Writing is, I think, about balancing the two. It's diferent for each of us, it's an individual process.

Writing begins when the daydreamer and the hard-worker allow each other to work. Then there's the part of me that catches it. That says "ah this will be a screenplay about dolphins" or "this is worthy of being a blog post about internal criticism."

For me to be able to write about these sides of my personality, means there was someone there witnessing everything. I've always been good at that-- being able to see the various sides of me smashing into each other. The one who witnesses the creative splurts and the horrible depressions and the months of irritability, has been able to teach me that these phases pass, that they're part of my creative process, and that they're all nonsense. It makes the pain of the blank page slightly easier to bare.

Writing is pleasurable for some. If you're one of them you're lucky. For me, the process is hugely difficult, lonely and demanding.

But that's writing: allowing freedom and dreaming to exist alongside productive urges.

But I count myself lucky. Too many people have no discipline, no drive, no focus. And even worse, some people have no imagination.

One last note: I realize many writers will have no idea what I'm talking about. A lot of writers don't house all these elements internally. Many have mentors, producers, etc, to provide the discipline. Likewise, many people have no ability to daydream, especially if they live in LA (joke). If you can get a colleague or manager or phone app to play one of these parts for you, I recommend it. For those of you like me, who demand doing the whole process yourself, I recommend a good night's sleep and a heavy dose of dreaming.

Five Question Interview With Actor PETER JAMES SMITH

Peter James Smith is a terrific actor whose work I have enjoyed for many years. He's done stints on all the shows you love-- CSI, 24, Friends, and as as a regular for seven years on The West Wing. Five question interviews are great because we get to skip there 'where did you grow up' talk and get right to the heart of the work, the acting. It's a topic that Peter knows plenty about.

You have this habit of turning up in nearly every TV show I watch. I think I mentioned to you that I was casually watching 'Friends' a few weeks back, and there you were! I am always interested to know what it's like, as an actor, to work for one or two episodes on such iconic shows as 'Friends', 'E.R.', '24', etc. How is the experience? Is it daunting to step into --- and is it sad when the job is over?

Every experience is different. On Friends, the thing I remember most from being on the set was how friendly Jennifer Anniston was. From E.R., I remember how efficient the whole process was. From 24, I remember staying up all night long and watching them film a car crash. That was cool.

These experiences aren't necessarily daunting--I think it depends a lot on the friendliness of the cast, crew and director of the show/episode. I have had some wonderful welcoming experiences and experiences where I felt less than welcome.

I do tend to go into a little depression after the end of any job I have--whether it's an on camera job or an on stage job.

I also remember little lessons I learn on each job and audition to help me on future jobs and auditions. Out of the jobs mentioned above, I think the lesson I use the most is the one I learned on the Friends audition. The lesson I learned there was that one's personality is at least equally as important as one's acting ability. If I can show a bit of my personality... my wit, my friendliness, my banter, my willingness to work with changes... I think it makes the people in the room want to work with me. They not only want someone that can do the job, but someone they would enjoy working with.

How do you like your relationship with the Director to be -- what is the ideal? Do you like to be left alone, or do you like lots of access to the director?

I'd love access to the director. However, I find--especially in television--there is so little time to get an amazing number of elements to come together, that the director may find the technical elements a lot more attention-consuming than the acting. So, most of the time I feel my job is to come in with my choices made. If the director wants any adjustments, it seems best if I'm able to do them quickly and smoothly.

There have been times where I do feel that the director takes the time to talk to me about what I'm doing --and I love when that happens-- but it feels like an exception rather than a rule.

I'd like to mention theater here. I think one of the things that a theater director told me that I think is brilliant is the director's job is to guide the actor into what the director wants the actor to do, but to do it in such a way that the actor thinks it was the actor's idea the whole time.

How is preparing for a stage role different to comparing for a screen role?

I think, again, because of the fast turn around in television--one's best tool is oneself. Be as natural and reactive as you would be in that actual situation.

Whereas, in theater, I feel one has time to build a different person entirely.

Why do you love acting?

Thanks for this question. It's been a while since I thought of it. I believe that acting, at it's highest, can put an audience into a character's shoes. In that way, a type of person that an audience member might not know much about, or perhaps even fear or dislike in some way--the audience could get to know this person and become more understanding of this type of person and, as a result, there is a little less ignorance and a little less prejudice in the world.

There are so many ups and downs when working in this industry. Especially for actors; one minute you have a heap of offers and projects, the next you're unemployed and nothing is coming your way. How do you deal with that? Has it gotten easier over the years?

It's funny. I don't think of how I deal with it. I just live my life in the every day and take what life does bring me--whether it's a heap of offers or a free day to go walking on the beach. It hasn't gotten easier. There is a certain level of acceptance... but there are also moments of panic when thinking about money or about making enough as a union actor to qualify for health benefits.

Friday 15 April 2011

Scream 4

I loved it. Had a great time.

It all began yesterday. A meeting was cancelled and I found myself in town with some time to spare. I went to see "Limitless". There was a trailer for "Scre4m". I loved the trailer. Felt a strong sense of affection for the characters. Or maybe it's nostalgia.

I am often found preaching against sequels -- but what can I say? I saw the trailer and then I wanted to see it. I felt an emotional attachment. Is that such a bad thing? Sure it may be a cash in, but I want to see the Ghostbusters again. I want to see Woody and Buzz argue. We fall in love with characters and they inform our childhoods, our teenage years, and we always long for them. "They don't make them like they used to," we say. We think we miss the stories but most of the time we miss the people.

I didn't think I was a big "Scream" fan and I don't even remember the sequels. But I was so on board with this film.

And Emma Roberts is gorgeous. And Hayden Pannethingy is too.

And suddenly I'm like everyone else. Excited about a sequel and staring at gorgeous women getting stabbed in close-up. This is so not me.

But it is me, because it's the movies, and I experienced real community. The packed out cinema was in giant fits of laughter, and there were HUGE screams. It was almost enough to stop people lighting up their Blackberries. We all laughed together when a woman screamed way too loudly, and we all shouted at the characters, trying to save them. And we knew exactly what was coming yet we kept getting surprised.

And this was funnier than any comedy I've seen in years. It's strange how attached you get to Sidney and Dewey and co. You don't get that from one movie. You get that from three movies and a ten year hiatus.

I had a blast. The cinema can be such an amazing thing. I hate people using their phones in the cinema but at the climax of the film they forgot about their mobile devices because they were gripped by the plot devices. People shouted and talked throughout the movie, but I liked it. People needed to talk. And at the end, everyone applauded. I was surprised, but it was earned. We all had so much fun together.

The opening night audiences are the fans. They're in the club. The cynics come a week later. That's usually me.

I learned something tonight. Don't judge a film too quickly. And don't be pretentious, don't think you're smarter than anyone, or that "people like crap films these days". It might make you feel clever, but while you're feeling clever and righteous, everyone is at the movies having the time of their lives.