Google+ Followers

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Trees In Trafalgar Square

I never get to be a tourist in my home town. It's hard to appreciate the place you live, the place you grow up. Most of the time London just drives me insane.

Today I'm liking it. The sun is shining, and London feels good. I'm sitting in Trafalgar Square and watching life happening in front of me. There's an old man sitting on a bench who looks completely content and happy. I wonder if that's really how he feels. Teenagers are splashing each other with water from the fountain, a picture of carefree youth. This moment, the days of fountains and sunshine, maybe this very moment that I witnessed will be the very best time in their lives. Fifteen years from now, maybe they'll be longing for another trip to London, with all the freedom and possibility they felt.

I'm sitting up against a wall, somewhere behind me is a guy singing and playing guitar. He's not great, but he sounds perfect for right now. Pleasant enough to be part of the soundtrack and not in any way distracting.

I'm sitting here wondering where all these people are in their lives. Are they on holiday? Are they happy? It gets me wondering about me, as I sit here in between everyone. There's a guy to the left of me; beer, cigarette, and a frown. Maybe he's not having a great day, maybe he finds the crowds here oppressive, but decided to come anyway.

There are trees around the Square, I'd never even noticed that before. There's a lot you don't notice when you're always moving. Do I want to be living a life when I don't even notice the trees? Surely they should be a part of it.

He's singing "Can't Help Falling In Love". His voice is awful, but the song still resonates. It's days like this when you realize you're not sixteen and hanging out at tourist spots for fun anymore, It's someone else's turn now. There's a business man walking through, he looks lost. He's definitely not noticing the trees. Maybe I should point them out to him.

I met a beautiful Brazilian woman here once. She asked me to take her picture, and afterwards she kept talking, there was a connection. But I was already twenty minutes late to meet my ex-girlfriend --who I'd cancelled on four times because I didn't really want to see her-- just so she could apologise for things and take away some of the guilt. I told the Brazilian girl I had to go, and that was that. I wonder how she is. I'm not suggesting I missed out on an epic romance, but maybe we'd have had an amazing coffee. How often do you meet beautiful Brazilian's in Trafalgar Square? Almost never.

The teenagers are gone, the old guy is gone, and the guy with the beer is leaving, only the trees remain. I look at the new bunch of people passing through, they're happy. At least for now, at this hour, on this day in London.

He's singing "I don't want to wait in vain for your love".


Care to share?

Monday, 30 May 2011

The Notebook

'The Notebook' is one of those films that a lot of people call their favourite movie and a lot of other people say "uh, It's boring". That's when you know a film is really something, when it has groupies. And I don't mean the type of groupies that 'Twilight' has. That was hyped and sold by the studios & then bought by the teenagers.

But 'The Notebook' affects a certain type of person. Its following built up over the years (and it only came out 7 years ago).

The idea behind the film is that love is the guiding principle of our lives.

The reason most of our lives are a mess is that we can't figure out what it all means. A good movie gives us answers. The main concern of the characters in the movie is their relationships. The love they feel. Everything else is secondary, and for two hours It's the same for us.

The best films aren't realistic, people get that wrong. The best films present an idea, they paint a picture, and they convince us It's real. 'The Notebook' convinces us that love conquers all, that love can achieve anything. There are those of us in the world who, despite evidence to the contrary, believe that love is what matters. How we held onto this notion before cinema, I really don't know.

Care to share?

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Attack The Blog

1. The Hangover 2 - For once the critics are right. This is just the first movie all over again. The first one was hilarious, but this is just the band regrouping for a greatest hits tour. The setlist is the same and the magic is gone.

But it's beautifully shot and there are worse things than two hours with these characters.

2. Champions League Final - Barcelona are unreal. Lionel Messi makes football an art. It's hardly worth the other team showing up.

3. Frankie & Johnny - I watched it again, it's too good. You can just feel their pain. And their love. It's a great journey, and it's meaningful. You bring your own bullshit into this movie when you watch it. Michelle Pfeiffer is beautiful. And she's a great actress.

4. What Women Want & Helen Hunt - This is interesting to watch now, knowing what Mel Gibson has become.

There are so many actors in this who you'll recognize. It's a great cast, no weak links. I love Alan Alda.

But it's Helen Hunt who is special here. When I finished this film I was desperate to watch 'Cast Away', just to see Hunt in those final scenes again. I didn't have time to watch it, and still haven't, but it's on my mind.

And I guess that's why people become actors. If you're good, you reach the heart. Helen Hunt is one of those rare actors who I'd watch in anything. There's something about her that is quietly heartbreaking and endearing. There's something in the little smile she does, you know the one I mean? It's just so uniquely her personality, you feel like you know her. It's like the sarcastic raising of the eyebrows with Hanks, or the confused Downey Jr look, before a wisecrack. It's these little personality traits that you come to know. It's what turns movie stars into people who feel like us.

Helen Hunt had a great run through the nineties until some time early this millennium. Then what happened? We need her on screen more.



5. Attack The Block - Saw this in the cinema today. It was great fun! Aliens land in a South London estate, and a local gang, comprised of 15 year olds decide to deal with it.

It's crazy. But a joy to watch, because it has a realness to it. It's how the kids around here talk. The film entered their world and gave them a platform. A crazy platform, but it was a joy.
Jodie Whittaker is a huge talent.

There was no bad acting in this film.

My friend turned to me halfway through and said "you should have written this", and I wish I'd thought of it, because the concept is hilarious.

6. Genre - I think the problem with genre films is that half of your brain shuts off. At the beginning, you think you're watching the best film ever. You get hugely excited.
But when you're locked in a genre, the plot will eventually have to conform to it. Decisions aren't based on character, they're based on "how can we get the killer to find the knife without the wife seeing him."

When "Attack The Block" started today I was SO into it. The characters were hilarious, the jokes were great. But then the genre took hold-- and you find yourself losing some kind of thread.

I'll figure out what the hell I'm talking about and re-approach this topic soon.

7. London - I was standing outside Leicester Square station yesterday, waiting for the lead actor of my movie. It was to be a day of casting.

I paced up and down, by the station, feeling a bit disgruntled because our casting efforts hadn't been very productive of late. And the theme music from "The Apartment" came into my headphones. And I looked at the Theatre across the road, and wondered what wonderful actors had graced that stage, and how many stories had taken place inside there over the years.

I was overcome with good feeling. It felt as if the spirit of art had visited me. I felt good, is what I'm saying.

Casting went well.

8. I have a clean reading slate. Tomorrow I will start a new book, exciting.

9. We need to be genuinely excited when we can. It's hard, because we forget. I was telling an actor friend this at lunch the other day: so often I'm walking around with 'stressed' as my default mindset. It just happens.

There's no reason for it most of the time.

10. I wrote the other day about how Tupac and Anne Frank were great because they knew they were going to die. It was the same for Bill Hicks. After he knew he was dying he amped up his routine, his message.

And yesterday I watched a Steve Jobs commencement speech from Stanford University. He said he always lived as if he was about to die. And then he got cancer and really was about to die. This guy invented Apple and Pixar.

When you're about to die, the excuses are bullshit. Bill Hicks says "it's just a ride". Opportunities we're scared of. Women/men we never ask on that date. Phone calls we keep delaying. We die. What are we waiting for?

The thing about living like you were dying, is that you can't just throw out your responsibilities. But most of the time it isn't about that. It's just about following up on an email, or making sure you sit down and write the damn scene.

For gazillions of years you and I didn't exist. And eighty years from now, once again, we'll be hurtled into non-existence for countless millennia.

We get to stumble around this rock for 80 years, if we're lucky. What rules are worth keeping? What work is worth doing?

Care to share?

Friday, 27 May 2011

Girl From Far Away

And there she was. You have precisely one second to make a first impression when you meet a girl like her.

Twenty minutes later and we were walking along the pier about ten minutes from my hotel and four minutes before it rained.

An hour goes by and she's sitting opposite me, watching my films on my phone. She quietly sits there engaged in the film, with this little smile that I've only ever seen on her.

I got on a plane, I came back to life. The years passed by and she has a husband now.

Care to share?

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Schools & Education - Wake The Fuck Up!

I have done some talks and workshops in schools recently, and am part of an organization that works with troubled youths, trying to help them see that the world is bigger than the bully in the playground.

But the bully isn't just in the playground. He's in the staff room. He's in the system.

I met this girl today who told me her dream. To be a singer and actor. She's never told anyone that before because when you're thirteen and you tell people you want to sing and act they think you're insane.

They don't like insane in society. They don't like ideas and dreamers. They wanna teach us maths and science, even when we hate maths and science. All they teach most of us is how to add up how low our paychecks are and then how to set fire to them with a Bunsen burner.


There was this other kid who we met because he's the 'bad kid', which is code for 'black' and 'gets restless during French lessons'. We gave him a folder and said "make it your own." We thought he'd write his name and class number. Instead he designed graffiti. It was amazing, and he did it for the other student's folders too. 

But schools don't get that. They think singing and graffiti don't lead to a career but knowing 3.14 is Pi does.

I was 12 years old and I was exactly how I am now, but less tall. My English teacher told me "Writing isn't your skill, find something else". It hurt. But she was my teacher. I didn't write for fun again for five years, and school was a nightmare.

I lost five years of my growth as a writer and it's because my teacher said I can't do it, and I believed her. 

It's time to wake the fuck up. The talent of young people is getting squandered. It's hard to be an entrepreneur from a prison cell, or from behind the counter at the supermarket. By then most people are dead. Because when you have big dreams the system doesn't allow you to exist.

And the system is broken. Half the people aren't working. I know geniuses who went to university because that's what was insisted, and now they work part time doing admin in the back offices of shoe shops. Everything is fucked yet we still make them call the teachers "Sir" and we still make them read shit that has nothing to do with who they are.

It's time for the educators of our young to wake the fuck up. I don't know how we do it. But the world is changing. Our young people are Facebooking and developing iPhone apps. It's different now. But still the artists suffer. 

That girl today was so shy about wanting to sing. It doesn't HAVE to be that way. That shyness isn't nature--- its growing up and having to push your aspirations so far inwards that pretty soon you convince yourself that not only do you not want to sing, but you really want that extra shoe shop shift.

I've got nothing against the shoe shop. I just know that people have bigger dreams. It's hard enough if you know what you're doing and have resources; but when your teachers, schoolfriends and everyone around you is forced to be exactly the same as everyone else, you get oppressed. You get stuck at home.

The world is a giant place, dreams come true. But we can't keep killing it at such a young age. Because how you are at 14 is usually how you are forever. Let's make it about possibilities and uniqueness. 

It's down to us as individuals -- as teachers, parents and teenagers. But there are also larger forces. Our governments, the men in grey suits who run the schools, and God knows who else. School is a place to learn, to have your mind opened to the possibilities. It's almost never the thing I just said. We need to change that.

Wake the fuck up.

Care to share?

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Cinema Visit Checklist

You're going to see a movie? Print out this handy Kid In The Front Row guide to make sure you are always prepared for a fantastic cinematic experience! Do not go to the cinema without these five things!

1. A Blackerry.

I'm talking about the electronic device, not the fruit. You can take the fruit to the cinema, but it is less capable of storing text messages.

A blackberry is essential. No movie is complete without BBM'ing your friends, especially when they're in the seat next to you!


2. Candy/Sweet Wrappers

I use the American term 'candy' and the English term 'sweets' to make sure nobody misses out on this one.

Wrappers are an integral part of the cinema. The rustling of the wrapping, together with the tap-tap sound of your Blackberry, means you're arguably deserving of a 'Foley Artist' credit.

Please note: I am, once again, referring to the Blackberry device, and not the fruit, as the fruit rarely makes a tap tap noise, unless trying to grab the attention of a friend.

3. A Girlfriend With An Annoying Accent

Women are so beautiful and wonderful! Especially when they are sitting two rows in front, in the dark cinema, talking with a twang that is part Southern, part retard.

Rather than jealously watch the guy in front of you talking to her, bring your own. But you must be strict. Regardless of how pretty she is her voice must be of a particular style, tone and diction, which can at best be described as the sound of a parrot that has been brought back three months after its death, made to swap genders and then forced to give a lengthy speech about hairdressing.

4. A Pretentious Laugh

Be sure to bring it. Every now and again, you spot a joke in a movie that most people in the audience missed, apart from the one person who spotted it and laughed loudly so that everyone knew they got it.

The only people who do this are either 54 year old bald men, or pretentious 19 year old students called Yvonne. Find out which one you are most like, and dress accordingly. You can also practice your laugh before the film, by giggling condescendingly during the trailer for the new Nicholas Cage film.

5. Loud Shoes

Loud shoes are wonderful, and they come in all sizes!

With these you can tap along to the musical score, you can kick the seat in front in a subtle, unobtrusive manner (when I say subtle and unobtrusive, I mean in a way similar to a small elephant jumping on your head whilst yelling in German).

The shoes are great for walking, for pushing the entire row of seats in front of you, and for running away should a member of the public want to kill you (cinemagoers just don't appreciate loud shoes these days, you can't be too careful).

Care to share?

Super Injunctions: Everybody Is Wrong

Most of my readership is American - so let me catch you up.

Google defines a Super Injunction as:

"An injunction is an equitable remedy in the form of a court order, whereby a party is required to do, or to refrain from doing, certain acts."

This means a variety of things, but what is in the limelight at the moment is that celebrities are paying the courts for the rights to have their extra-marital indiscretions kept out of the newspapers, by law. In the UK we don't have freedom of speech or freedom of press, we just have celebrities and rich people. 

So, to begin with, we have the dumbness that the mega-rich are able to pay the courts to silence the press from printing stories. 

But then we have the other side of it. Who a footballer has sex with is not news. If David Beckham is found in the midst of a passionate threesome with Alex Ferguson and Thierry Henry: this isn't news. It's people's private lives. Newspapers like 'The Sun' aren't in court fighting for the right to print these injunctions based on principle, it's based on smut, based on printing titillating bullshit for the masses to spend their days reading about. It sells copies. 

So we have super injunctions, the very existence of which strongly curtail the freedom of press. 

And then we have the newspapers on the other side, who use whatever freedom they do have not to report on corruption and power and poverty -- but to print which actors and soccer players have been getting their penises out in their private lives.

And then there's us, the public. Storming onto Twitter and retweeting every bit of sordid bullshit about which footballer's fucked which model. There is so much in the world that is wrong, really wrong, and there is so much we should be focusing on. But we're a society obsessed with breast-implanted TV stars and sportsmen who get paid £200,000 a week. What the hell are we doing? 

I realise that by sharing this picture, I am becoming a part of the very crap I am arguing against -- but I want to make a point. This is a picture from The Daily Mail.

This is what our country is getting excited about. This is what sells our newspapers. These are the conflicts that matter in our world. How many of these are newsworthy? 

I am not saying all this in defence of these overpaid celebrity men who can't keep it in their pants. It's embarrassing just how common these affairs are. 

I'm not saying the newspapers shouldn't be allowed to print these stories. I'm saying they shouldn't want to. This isn't news. A few of the alleged super injunctions aren't even affairs, they're just private stories about people's sexuality and preferences. The ethics of these news organisations is so much worse than the people they write about every day. Maybe they should stop writing about celebrities, even stop writing about dictators and murderers, and just publish stories about themselves.

The important news is harder. A story about people being killed in Georgia or gangs raping women in the DR Congo is tough to read; I understand why we need nonsense, I understand why we can't bare to look at this stuff. But the energy and time we spend on this absolute bullshit about celebrities is INSANE. 

Everyone, on all sides of this --- they are insane! It's insane that the press are restricted by the courts when it comes to this stuff. It's insane that everybody cares so much. And it's insane that I am writing in this way. We are all nuts!

Care to share?

Monday, 23 May 2011

Radio

I was 14 and I'd lay on my bed with my eyes and ears as close to the speakers as I could get. And I'd have the cassette ready on 'record' and 'pause', all I had to do was click pause to begin recording.

Back then it was no career path, I wasn't a blogger ranting about art or a filmmaker desperate to capture life in a jar: I was just a kid by the radio.

And within a split second of a song starting I knew if I should be recording or not. I wanted to record everything that was great. I probably taped hundreds of hours of radio.

It wasn't crystal clear digital then, the music sounded like it was from somewhere far away (literally, I had interference that sounded like aliens). But at the same time it was right there in my room.

When you lay there in the dark, at fourteen, hearing Sam Cooke for the first time, and remembering the names of every Beatles track they play; you can't help but have it shape who you are.

The music was so authentic.

I didn't know what I was doing. There was no set task, no job to win. I just recorded anything I loved. And I loved so much of it. And this was in the days when DJ's who actually decided what to play were dying out, the last few remained.

Without doubt, a good DJ is an artist. Even deciding what track follows "What's Going On", that's an art. Not many get it right.

Night after night, I was a kid who loved to hear the voices of the world. I loved music that described how I felt. And that was enough, just to be there, engaged in the night and the music beamed across invisible radio waves.

A few nights back I listened to "Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay" at 2am. And tonight it's "Vincent (Starry Starry Night)" and wow, they don't make them like this any more, they don't even try.

Music in headphones whilst heading to work is just a distraction, or an energy boost, but there's something deeper on offer. The history of music is filled with tracks that will change how you see the world. They'll make you understand yourself and the people you love better.

Radio is something else now. It doesn't mean anything. But the music lives on. Find it, listen to it, and get those cassettes ready.

Care to share?

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Art Not Bullshit

Charlie Chaplin was so good it was impossible he wouldn't make it. He'd seen people on stage practically from birth, and he was on stage himself from the age of five.

Tupac was such a powerhouse of ideas and anger and poetry that he was never going to be anything apart from the greatest rapper of all time.

Steve Martin was funny but he couldn't make the whole room laugh. He did comedy gigs in empty clubs for eight years before he broke. It took him that long, night after night, to figure out what he was doing. Woody Allen has the same story, his manager's sent him out to clubs every night in New York and he'd bomb. The audience didn't get the jokes and Woody thought he was a failure.

Steve Martin became the biggest stand up comedian ever and Woody Allen changed cinema.

We can be bystanders and critics, but we won't be artists. If you want to be one of them you have to be sweating it on stage every night. You've got to be drawing storyboards when you're in bed with flu.

I interviewed Scott Rosenberg on here a few years back and he said it takes fifteen scripts to get good. How many have you written? Maybe you've written thirty-four and they all suck. But you're still writing, good.

Needless sequels, glorified violence, pop stars with their breasts hanging out-- these things bring people and projects attention immediately. But it disintegrates. They might get noticed and make heaps of money for a brief time, but nothing else lasts. You won't be showing these films to your soulmate or playing their songs at your funeral.

So I'm going to assume if you're a creative person reading this here, you're interested in the art, not the bullshit.

Art takes time. Talent takes time. You just have to keep working. The films you acted in five years ago showed some promise but were mostly awful. The screenplay's you wrote were all over the place.

Even bloggers will feel this. The more we write, the better we get. My first ever article was some generic bullshit about how music is important in movies. It meant nothing, no-one was reading. But I'm getting better at figuring out who I am and what I love about movies. Sure, some posts suck, but that's creativity. We take the risk. The point is, post-for-post, I nail it more often than I did two years ago. Why? Because rather than sleep, I stay up writing blog posts. It's 2am and I have to be up in five hours.

I'm fine with that.

It takes time and discipline. I like how Will Smith put it. He says he'll die on the treadmill, no way is he getting off. He works at it. No wonder he's a millionaire movie star and producer with a beautiful wife and talented kids.. he shows up for work. He could have been remembered as that kid on that Bel Air show, but he's so much more, because he's dedicated to learning and practicing and hustling and trying.

There are no shortcuts. The myths make it sound like Spielberg woke up one day and directed 'Jaws', but the truth is he dedicated all his time, from childhood onwards, to believing in his mad visions, and demanding his Dad get his friends to let him film scenes in the cockpits of their planes.

Don't wait around to be discovered by an agent or producer or magazine, just keep doing the work. You're not powerless. Even if they're not hiring you, not financing you, not liking your sound.

It means you keep working at it. Because Spielberg was just too determined, and Tupac was just too revolutionary, and Chaplin was just too funny. I'm not saying we can be as successful as them-- because they are once in a lifetime geniuses, but we can learn a lot from their work ethic, from their perserverance. They had rejection and self-doubt just like me and you. But the work always came first. No time for excuses.

Nothing can replace experience. We get better.

Care to share?

DVD CHALLENGE: The Films We Avoid

We all have them. DVD's we buy or borrow, then take six years to watch because we're just not interested. Our reasons are usually ignorant and stupid, but they keep us away from watching.

This week I will be battling past my presumptions and watching the films I've been hiding from. I challenge you to do the same and tell us all about it.


Below are the films I've been avoiding, along with my ignorant assumptions:


Gandhi

Ignorant Assumptions: It's three hours long and is going to be boring and preachy!! I am going to struggle to get taken in by it.. although paradoxically I believe it may be my favourite film ever once I watch it.



The Grapes Of Wrath

Ignorant Assumptions: It's going to be old and slow and boring and simple.


Kung Fu Hustle

Ignorant Assumptions:
It's a pile of bullshit.



39th Battalion

Ignorant Assumptions: This film was recommended to me. But my assumption is its going to look cheaply made and have a terrible story.


Casino

Ignorant Assumptions: That it'll be too long and 'cool' and it won't hold my interest.


Slacker

Ignorant Assumptions: Now that its been copied and inspired so many others, it'll be hard to see its magic. It'll just be twentysomething white people talking about dating and weed and I'll get so bored i'll give up film viewing forever.


Ice Cold In Alex

Ignorant Assumptions: Will be too British. Unrealistic and lame, and I'll feel guilty for thinking a supposed masterpiece is boring and silly.


So that's me... Will you be fighting the resistance and watch the films you've been resisting? What are your ignorant assumptions?

Care to share?

Friday, 20 May 2011

Nothing To Live For: Say What You Need To Say

It's 2.43am, Saturday morning, and I'm listening to 'Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay' by Otis Redding. And I'm thinking - how the fuck did he do this? Why is it SO perfect? Is it his voice? Is it the guy who co-wrote the song? Is it a fluke?

Film Director's tell people the one they're currently filming will be their best ever, and they mean it. But you never know. There's a scene in one of my films that makes me cringe, because me and the actor fucked it up. But no-one notices, they love the scene. Meanwhile other scenes I think I got close to perfect, and they mean nothing to people.

When you create a body of work, you look back to some pieces with affection, and some make you cringe. But when you're creating them, you never know.

Why is the Otis Redding song so good? And why does Elton John's "Your Song" resonate with EVERYBODY? Elton wrote the music for that track in thirty minutes. People spend five years writing crap.

I guess the only thing to do is create.

The rest is out of our control.Anne Frank didn't realise the context her diary would be in. Otis didn't plan to represent an era, and Elton didn't know It'd still be a concert favourite all those years later. 

Some pieces of art are just heartbreakingly perfect. Make your best friend put down the Blackberry and watch "The Apartment", get the DJ at the party to play "Build Me Up Buttercup", and lay down in your bed when the world is sleeping and listen to "Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay".

Most of what we make is drivel. Our best attempts make everyone snore. But something else is possible.

If we just create.

Anne Frank knew her time was up. So did Warren Zevon. So did Tupac. And in a different way, so do Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood. Maybe being reminded of what lurks around the corner gives us the drive we need.

Otis died at TWENTY SIX. Fuck. Maybe he knew too.

"Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay" wasn't even released yet. Otis didn't get to see the impact he'd have on the world. I mean, some guy is writing about him at 3am on a Friday, 44 years later, that's pretty special.

Anne Frank's diary is still a big seller. The world needed it. The world needs it. And Tupac still has hit records, people need the message.

Art truly lives forever.

This stuff is so important that I want to wake everyone up and scream it at them.

Simplicity is best. Be truthful. Anne said "I'm Jewish and I'm trapped." Tupac said "I'm black and we're being mistreated and we're mistreating ourselves." Elton said "This is your song," and Otis said "This loneliness won't leave me alone."

Think about that for a minute. Saying "I'm trapped because of who I am" is hard, even in a modern, non life-threatening situation. And when you say "This song is for you," you're vulnerable like crazy. And nobody ever admits "this loneliness won't leave me alone".

They dared to make their art about who they were as human beings. The things we struggle to say.

Come to think of it, when Elton made that masterpiece, he was trapped too. Wow, that's a 3.15am revelation if ever there was one. "I'm trapped because of who I am" precisely explains a huge part of Elton John's life back then. It's not just a love song, it's him singing a song that society didn't want him singing to the person he loved.

We can't obstruct ourselves or rule anything out if we want to make great art. We have to lay it all out on the table -- show people who we really are.

It's not a masterpiece, but I'm now listening to a John Mayer song now. The lyrics are fitting:

"You'd better know that in the end,
It's better to say too much,
Than never to say what you need to say again.

Even if your hands are shaking,
And your faith is broken,
Even as the eyes are closing,
Do it with a heart wide open.
Say what you need to say."

SAY WHAT YOU NEED TO SAY. You might die at 26. Leave a legacy. Don't guess at what a legacy is, or what's cool. Just create.

Care to share?

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Somewhere Over The Rainbow

I want to find an island somewhere, where the creative people can go. Where dreaming is a way of life and a writer can spend three years, if inclined, just to find the perfect word.

It's a place where no-one is interrupted. Where the lingering creative idea gets to be fully dreamed up and held onto, without being stopped by the phone ringing, or person shouting or appliance breaking.

There are no egos in this land. Nobody is marketing themselves or selling their work, they're just creating. They're turning up and working. Some people hide in the mountains for days, others pace up and down in the sand, looking for a clue that will lead to the perfect sentence or insight or twist.

And the work is enough. They can have the red carpets and press conferences back on the mainland, but here everyone is too busy working on something new.

And if you think you need a five mile walk in order to think of an idea, you can do it. If you need to sit in a group and meditate for five days in order to truly get into the head of your character, you can. No-one will judge you here, because everyone knows you're working. Working on what's really important. The dreaming life. The fantasies. The problems in your head that trouble you. On the mainland they deal with them by medicating, and sleeping with the secretary, here on the island we delve deeply into who we are as humans, and we take as long as we need to figure out whatever it is we need in order to tell our stories.

And everyone is there for you, and everyone is listening. Because they're all dreamers and writers and rock stars. And life will take on new meaning because we took the time to get down to what it's really all about.

I want to find an island somewhere.

Care to share?

Friday, 13 May 2011

What I Learned From The Blogger Meltdown

1. The owner of the blog doesn't have any power. Google could shut down Blogger tomorrow if it wanted to -- and all of my content would be gone, all of you would be gone. It's the same with Facebook, and Twitter. Even our emails. We have no power. It can all be swept away, or changed.

2. There was a MAJOR security issue regarding my blog during the down time. I tried contacting Blogger about it, but can't get to a human, can't get a response. So I'm left just feeling vulnerable about it. This is how Sony Playstation 3 users feel now. These companies provide services and we come to expect something from them. But who's to say they need to be ethical? Who says they're here for us?

3. Facebook, Blogger, etc, they own us, more than we realize. They give us the privilege of their often fantastic, revolutionary services, and we come to rely on them, they become a part of our lives. But you don't own the house, you're not even renting. You're just a squatter. You have no rights.

4. This quote from 'The Social Network' is so relevant. "Okay, let me tell you the difference between Facebook and everyone else, we don't crash EVER! If those servers are down for even a day, our entire reputation is irreversibly destroyed! Users are fickle, Friendster has proved that. Even a few people leaving would reverberate through the entire userbase. The users are interconnected, that is the whole point. College kids are online because their friends are online, and if one domino goes, the other domino's go, don't you get that?"

5. This isn't just an issue of maintenance and technical issues. A lot of blogs serve very important functions in the world and how it communicates (I'm not talking about my blog here.)

6. We don't know who 'Blogger' are, or who 'Google' are, or any of the services we use and get addicted to. A friend says 'download this app for your phone' or 'Get an Itunes account!" and we do it and if we like it, we stay. But you're not dealing with someone in your neighbourhood, you're dealing with big anonymous corporations. And Facebook is spying on Google, and Sony Playstation have accidentally put people's personal details in jeopardy, and Blogger suffered 'Data Corruption.'

7. I realise I sound like an idiot for caring so much about the fact a blogging website went down for two days.

8. But I am extremely pissed about point '2', and don't know what to do about it. The only people I want to speak to about it are Blogger themselves, but they're AWOL.

9. Have you ever thought about how powerless we are? I have some great friends all around the world, and the only way we stay in touch is through social networks, emails and blogs. They could get hacked, or the companies decide to close down immediately, or they could charge money, they could do anything they want; and where would we be? How would we stay in touch? We wouldn't even know where to find each other. There are no rules when it comes to this stuff. We have no idea what happens to our data.

10. I need to back up this website immediately, does anyone have any ideas how to do it?

11. If anyone has any experience switching blogging platforms and retaining all of/the majority of their readership, please give me advice.

12. Most of this I wouldn't care about. But point '2' was a disgrace. "A small subset of Blogger users (we estimate 0.16%) may have encountered additional problems specific to their accounts.", I guess that's me. If anyone here has direct email addresses for the people at Blogger, please let me know. 


Technorati Code 3R7J52S2J79A

Care to share?

Thursday, 12 May 2011

The Black Box

We were sitting on trains, walking through parks, and laying on beaches. It didn't matter where we were, we just couldn't get enough of it. Each of us obsessively eating into our data allowances as we messaged our friends and read news articles we forgot soon after.

We were in London, or Paris, or a mountain in some far away land. It didn't matter where we lived, because we lived in a box three inches from our faces that we kept glued to our hands.

And moments weren't between two people anymore. You write "I'm in a wonderful restaurant in Berlin with Sally". The world knows. Your school friend Bernard knows you're there. And @screenwriterharry22 has been informed.

You're not in a restaurant, you're in a little box of electrics. You tell a joke to your brother and its so funny that you instantly tell a version to Twitter and tag in Judd Apatow just in case he thinks you're hilarious. But the joke is no longer between you and your brother.

Because nothing is private anymore. Nothing is shared between two people. The world knows.

Never in history have we been so connected yet so isolated. We're closer to strangers across the world than people we're eating dinner with. Except we're hardly close at all. We're just people on opposite sides of the world staring at the little black boxes we keep glued to our hands. And old buildings are forgotten and old friends invited to a Facebook Fan Page. And we sit in a train or coffee house in London or Tokyo or somewhere else in the world, but nobody is there, because they're in their little black boxes doing critically important things. All except one thing: talking to the person on front of them.

Two people and a fireplace. That doesn't happen anymore. The flame is burning out, and I need a phone upgrade.

That was us in 2011.

Care to share?

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Texting Tom

Eight years ago I met Tom, when I was casting a film. I disliked him immediately but we ended up great friends.

At least I thought we did.

But then I realised I haven't seen him in three years.

Although we text nearly every day.

Our texts are completely nonsensical; and are comprised almost entirely, and randomly -- out of quotes from 'Forrest Gump', 'The Cable Guy', 'Groundhog Day' and 'You've Got Mail'. It's something like this.

KID
Do you think we should meet? 

TOM
You're a very nice guy, but I just don't have any room in my life for a new friend. Okay?  

KID
But I'm in the all America ping pong team.

TOM
Is there someone else? Oh! That woman on television, Sidney-Ann!!!

KID 
F-O-X

TOM 
Needlenose Ned?

KID
Ned the head? Ned Ryerson? Needlenose Ned? F-O-X? 

TOM 
It's the cable guy.

KID 
You like boats, but not the ocean.

TOM 
I never made a slam dunk before. Thanks for the boost. Racoons. 

KID 
Those must be comfortable shoes. You can sit here if you want to.

TOM
Jenny?

KID 
Momma, what's vacation?

TOM 
F-O-X

KID
Do you think we should meet? 

TOM
You're going down Red Knight! Down, down, down., Red Knight's goin' down. Down, down, down, Red Knight goin' down.

KID
You off to see the groundhog?

TOM
Nancy?

KID
That kid may be the stupidest son of a bitch I've ever seen, but he sure is fast! 

TOM 
Yes Drill Sargeant. 

I often find myself distracted from writing, or reaching for my phone during meetings, or even waking up in the middle of the night---- purely to add to our ongoing masterpiece of quotexts. I think it's because Lieutenant Dan was always getting these funny feelings about a rock or a trail or the road, so he'd tell us to get down, shut up. And what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today.

Care to share?

Keep Out

In a movie, it's much easier to be free. I came up with the name 'Kid In The Front Row' on a whim. But I think it expresses everything I feel about the cinema.

If I'm standing outside a fascinating old building with a 'Do Not Enter' sign, I don't want to obey it. I want to cross the line, I want to explore, and it's possible I will. But I'll feel guilty if I do, and I'll look over my back, convinced a security guy or policeman will make it a nightmare.

But when I write a screenplay, or film a scene, the characters can walk straight past that sign with ease.

'Do Not Enter' is everywhere. Don't enter that derelict building, don't enter into a relationship, don't enter into the film industry.

We go after the safe options. It's as if all of human experience has led us to a place of fear, where making a decision based on heart, or curiosity or hope is seen as absurd. Tell the person next to you that you want to go explore a haunted house, or you want to go explore Romania on your own, you'll meet resistance. People who know better. People who know the answers.

Movies are different. People stretch those boundaries, and they change. The best movies are about people who dare to risk, dare to love, dare to break out of the rules that society and the law placed down so pointlessly.

The other side of the no entry sign is where all the fun is. It's where life happens. For the most part, our fictional counterparts do it better than we do. And we get older, and less bolder, and satisfaction remains amiss.

Just a thought.

Care to share?

Monday, 9 May 2011

Tiny Dancer



This was always a great song. But in 2000, Cameron Crowe put it in 'Almost Famous' - which made the song even better. Crowe has a way of doing that.

Care to share?

Work

There are those that do the work and those that don't do the work. The difference between them is that those who do the work do the work, and the other side don't. It's that simple. 

And you can be either and most of the time you're caught dancing between the two. Constantly prioritizing and re-prioritizing and never quite figuring out where you are. But if you want to be hired, or you want to be taken seriously, you have to do the work. You have to be the writer who gets called up because the producer knows you can write them a scene at 2am ready for shooting at 6am. 

Because that's exactly how it is. There are those who do the work and those who avoid it, or delay it, or have the excuses. 
This is for me just like it's for you. Because some projects this year that should have taken five minutes took about seven months. 

The only difference between someone who does the work and someone who doesn't do the work is that the one who does the work does the work. The other one almost does it. Or does it five months from now. 

Do the work. It's why you here. Why you got into this thing. The daydreaming about red-carpets can come later, so can the moaning about bad auditions and evil producers. Forget about that and do the work.

Care to share?

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Five Questions For You

Would love for you to answer these, and also pass this on to anyone else who might be interested.

1. Has a film storyline or character ever inspired you to say or do something in your life that, otherwise, you wouldn't have said or done?

2. Artists die, but their work stays, as long as we keep viewing it. Why is the past important? Where do Chaplin, Capra and Hepburn fit into a world of iPhones and social networks?

3. What do you dislike most about movies?

4. Please sum up in only ONE word, what you are looking when you watch a film.

5. When you think of your love for movies, what one image comes to mind? (could be an image from a movie, could be a flashback of you as a kid eating popcorn, could be anything!)

Care to share?

Friday, 6 May 2011

Talent? No-one Cares

When you were young, you found out you had talent. Some people can put a sentence together better than others, some can sing a nice tune.

You think that's your ticket.

But talent isn't personal. Talent doesn't resonate.

But your personal story does. The tales and tumbles that make you a unique person.

A hundred years from now you're dead. There'll be others who can sing, others who can light a scene or hold a paintbrush.

But none of them have your fingerprints. Your handwriting is your own and when you look out of your window at night you see it in a way that only you can see.

Show us that. We want to know what you feel, and how it hurts you, and how it makes you scream with joy.

Care to share?

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A Fast Five

1. 'Insidious' is a cool movie. My friends tell me it's a rip off of some other films but I wouldn't know, as Horror isn't really my thing. I saw this on a whim, without knowing what it was.

Some bits made me jump, and I loved the tension. I bought into the nonsense. I usually have such a low bullshit meter, but with 'Insidious' I bought into it. And there was a weird bit at the end where Patrick Wilson goes into 'The Further' which was creepily like a recurring dream/nightmare I have.. so I was fascinated!

2. 'My Date With Drew's is a documentary about a guy who won $1100 on a game show and spent it documenting himself going after a dream he'd had his whole life: to have a date with Drew Barrymore.

It's funny, heartwarming and unexpectedly inspiring. Check it out, it came out on DVD like seven years ago.



3. I'm working my way through 'The Pacific'. It's different to what I expected. I'm six episodes in and I haven't really latched onto the characters. When someone on screen says a name I just kind of pretend I know who they're talking about. It's like when you're 200 pages into a book and the name Vera is mentioned and you haven't a clue who she is or how she relates to the main character.

But there are some poignant moments. And the 3rd episode was really moving.

4. I struggle to relax in the cinema. I need a perfect environment. Any sign of phone use, or chatter-- or, yesterday, in the row behind me was a constant foot shuffler tapper man! Tapping his feet, shuffling them around, munching on his little snacks he'd smuggled in. What a nightmare!

5. Who will they cast as Bin Laden?

Care to share?

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

The World Inside Of You

Osama Bin Laden is dead. Or maybe he's alive. Or maybe he was killed years ago.

And the Royal Wedding was a glorious triumph of love. Or maybe it was unearned privilege paid for by the people who struggle to put bread on the table. Or maybe it was irrelevant.

And President Obama is American. Or maybe he's a terrorist. Or maybe he's a dancer on Broadway and owned by Freemasons.

The job of the artist isn't to judge the different opinions, it's to get inside of them. To feel them, to understand where they come from.

Why do some English people want the Royal's out? Why do some Americans have a big problem with the color of Obama's skin? Why are people so quick to assume the Osama Bin Laden assassination was anything apart from what we were told?

Your answers to these questions aren't meant to be factual, but you're meant to be able to feel them. Feel the part of you that believes everything you're told and -- feel the part of you that mistrusts authority every single time. Dig into who you are until you find the part of you that is judgemental, or has prejudice. What's underneath that? Do you have fears? Painful experiences?

We are all so similar, yet so different. But we don't just want our art to appeal to people who look and feel like us. It needs to reach further. But we all have limits. Everyone is liberal, to a point. Everyone is loving, until they're fearful. Everyone is carefree, until they wake up in the morning.

Hitler was evil. Osama Bin Laden too. But most people aren't, they're doing the best they can. They believe they're doing right. It's easy to get caught up in the circus of calling the other side dumb, or ignorant; but it's more productive to explore it on a deeper level. Explore the ways in which you are dumb and ignorant, and help it make your work richer. 

Care to share?

Monday, 2 May 2011

Discipline

There's nothing more important. Creative people like to have an image of freedom and lightness, and we all have the reputation of slackers.

But being a writer or actor or director or whatever it is, it takes huge discipline. Especially if you want to succeed.

Projects are easy to start, impossible to complete. That's why the discipline is important. You've got to write the pages, not munch on the cake. You've got to edit the scene, or read the book, not spend three nights googling images of Megan Fox nude.

Tomorrow always feels like a better day to start, whereas today is perfect for one more day of watching 'Friends'. We have valid excuses: the laptop is broke, the girlfriend is sick, the inspiration hasn't struck. But six months go by.

Discipline is staying on track, every day. It's a diet regime that you stick with, for life. It's a gym membership that actually gets used. The good thing is that discipline is the ingredient that makes you an expert, that makes you choose a script over Facebook, or audition preparation over the Xbox 360.

It rarely feels good when you start doing the work. But once you're doing it, you are freed. And it's always easier than you think. You avoid something simple like sending an email to a producer, or enquiring about an agent-- you avoid it for seven months for no good reason, and you feel awful every day. But when you make the phone call or send the email, its easy, and it only took fifty seconds. And your world opens up.

The work is hard to start. Harder to finish. But it's the only way you'll be satisfied come the end of the night.

Care to share?

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Woody Allen & His Creativity: 'Husbands and Wives', 'Manhattan Murder Mystery', and 'Deconstructing Harry'

Woody Allen is always intensely creative, and prolific. The style and content of his films vary greatly, yet he is often accused of repeating himself. If there is any truth to that, it's because he is a true artist. Just like a painter might have an affinity for certain colours, or a liking for certain subject matters, Woody Allen is exactly the same. His much derided English films were seen by many as him finally and forever losing his touch - but as he gets more used to working abroad, he gets better. Recent films such as 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona' and 'You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger' were fabulous films. 

His first European films were always going to be difficult -- Allen is known to struggle outside of New York, and he dislikes sunshine, and he prefers, where possible, to work with the same trusted crew members on his projects. When he came to Europe, everything was different.


You could say he came to London, and then other European countries, because these were the only places still willing to fund his films. And that would possibly be true. But another factor is that - Woody Allen always challenges himself. After 'Bananas' and 'Sleeper', he had a style which guaranteed success and fame. Instead of continuing in that vein, he made more literate films like 'Annie Hall' and deeper, dramatic films, such as 'September'. This is a writer and director who is driven by his vision - by his never ending creativity and determination to make a perfect film.

I find Allen's films from the 1990's to be particularly fascinating. He made a black and white noiresque comedy, inspired by the German expressionists called "Shadows and Fog", he made an all star musical starring Drew Barrymore, Ed Norton, Goldie Hawn and Julia Roberts, called "Everyone Says I Love You", and he even made a film that featured a Greek choir throughout, called "Mighty Aphrodite".

It says a lot about his body of work that those aren't even the films I'm going to talk about.

'Husbands and Wives' was Woody Allen's last film with his then long term girlfriend, Mia Farrow. While many of the films he made with her can undoubtedly be called masterpieces, it's my feeling that the intensely creative period in the years after they broke up were Woody's best (so far). In fact, I would say that period began with 'Husbands and Wives' which is hardly surprising as their relationship began to full apart in the middle of production. 

The film is an intense, high-energy film about relationships-- and it's a film in which Woody threw out all the rules of filmmaking. The opening scene is as fascinating an opening scene as you could hope to see. Everything is told in single master shots -- there's no cutting (to different angles) although he chooses to have sharp, abrupt cuts, moving the action along. Usually when you watch a film there are smooth and natural feeling edits, whereas here Woody is happy to cut mid-sentence to move things along. It's jarring at first--- but within minutes, you forget it's happening. Woody creates a new film language and makes us enjoy it, all in a matter of minutes.

It is also memorable because of the fantastic visual style created with his long term collaborator, Carlo DiPalma. The three films I am focusing on were, in the end, a great way to end his career and, as it turned out, his life. The camerawork is handheld, often shaky; in fact, a complete mess, much like the characters in the film.

"I've always been thinking that so much time is wasted and so much is devoted to the prettiness of films and the delicacy and the precision. And I said to myself, why not just start to make some films where only the content is important. Pick up the camera, forget about the dolly, just hand-hold the whole thing and get what you can."
-Woody Allen

But what could be limiting, for some director's -- was absolutely freeing for Allen and his actors. When you watch the opening scene, notice how you get a strong sense of what each character is going through. Cutting to different angles is, in essence, lying to the audience -- or at least, manipulating their attention. Doing it in this way allowed Woody to do it in a more subtle and compelling way. Watch this:




'Manhattan Murder Mystery' is my favourite Woody Allen film. His maturity as a comedic writer, director, and actor, has allowed him to makes films like this where the laughs are so constant, and so cleverly constructed and presented -- that most of the time you don't even realise you're laughing. Woody is the master of slipping in something funny and not drawing attention to it. The funny line is presented as straight as the straight line. And if you don't find it funny, he doesn't mind, because he's on to the next joke. I saw his most recent film "You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger" and found it quietly hilarious even though, on the surface, it isn't even a comedy. As a director he's a lot more self-assured than when he made films like "Take The Money And Run" and "Bananas". '..Murder Mystery' is a film that warms my soul and fills me up with smiles and laughs in a way no other film can. 

He has the best people at his disposal once again. He teamed up again with Diane Keaton ('Annie Hall', 'Manhattan',) and Alan Alda


Once again, Brian DiPalma shot the film handheld, in lengthy single takes. This gives the actors great freedom. In the scene below, we see the characters in a restaurant scene. And it's all played out in one shot. Much like with 'Husbands and Wives', look at how the characters communicate and relate to each other. There are subtle disagreements, jealousies, and we see Alda flirting with Keaton right in front of Allen's eyes. 



'Deconstructing Harry' is a film that shows Woody Allen at his experimental best. When you say 'experimental' about a film director, it normally implies some good and some bad. But here, Woody is so confident and competent in what he's doing that it feels completely natural. The sharp cutting techniques of 'Husbands and Wives' are used here again, but to even wilder extremes -- we see characters appearing in different parts of a room, we jitter back and forth in time, and we zip through scenes and dialogue in a lightning fast way.

"If I am dealing with a very neurotic character, I like to cut neurotically. I like the cuts to be atonal or asymmetrical and not balanced. So I just cut when I want to cut, and keep it moving very fast, and jump when I want to jump".
-Woody Allen

Here are some actors who appeared in the film: Robin Williams, Billy Crystal, Paul Giamatti, Stanley Tucci, Tobey Maguire, Demi Moore, Mariel Hemingway, Judy Davis, Kirstie Alley. The list shows his amazing ability to attract the best actors, as well as discovering new talents (Maguire and Giamatti were not widely known at the time). It is also a testament to the talents of Woody Allen than a major actor like Robin Williams was willing to take a small part in the film where he would be out of focus the entire time (you don't get to see Robin clearly at any point). 


'Deconstructing Harry' is so alive. At the time of production, Woody was well into his sixties -- yet rather than making comfortable and predictable films (i.e. guaranteed successes) he was making films like this. It is also a marked departure from his usual on screen character. Sure, there are massive similarities -- but there is also a coarseness and bitterness that we hadn't seen previously in Woody's films. The language and sexual scenes, again -- a world apart from films like "Annie Hall" and "The Purple Rose Of Cairo". 


It's hard to do the film justice in a blog post and a YouTube clip-- but having a watch of this scene will give you an idea of the creativity of Woody Allen. It reminds me of the first time I saw Chaplin's "Modern Times", it was full of rich ideas and comic developments. Here, again; we see many sides of Woody -- his finely tuned screen presence, his simple and unobtrusive camera-work, and his risk taking. This is the character Harry Block, high on pills, miraculously out-of-focus, and making great jokes about Hitler. You'll also see a favourite technique of his -- to have characters speaking outside of frame (he first did this when working with cinematographer Gordon Willis, who showed Woody how characters don't necessarily have to be in the shot to have an effect on the audience).


When writing about Woody Allen -- whether it's about his writing, his acting, or his private life, people are always looking to pigeonhole him. But the truth is, he's an artist with a diverse and eclectic filmography. He has bad films, average films, and masterpieces. And the good thing about his work is that, even if you hate what he just did, he'll be back with something again next year.

Care to share?