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Friday, 30 September 2011

Input Needed

So let's do something different.

What do you want me to blog about?

Care to share?

Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Early, Funny Ones: Your First Experiences Making Films Are By Far The Best

You'll never have as much fun as those first films. Everyone comes together and feels the possibilities. You shoot at 6am all the way through till 4am and no-one cares because you're in it together, doing something, and everyone had forgotten what it was to do something.

And you scoff down a bar of chocolate at 2am and a cake at 2.04am and get talking to some bearded helper about your cinematic influences and you chat to the pretty girl who's helping out just because it gives her something to do and she tells you how she secretly wants to write scripts.

You laugh like crazy because the acting is so bad and no-one knows what they're doing. But everything is so important, it's like bomb disposal. You must must must make this movie because life depends on it. You run down the steps holding some cable and feel all buzzed up on life.

You take a break between scenes in some freezing cold field and everyone is eating bananas cos' you asked people to bring food and Michael brought fifty bananas because he's crazy.

Everyone is crazy, jumping off houses with cameras and climbing onto houses that belong to strangers; all because the shot is needed. The film is everything. We were sleepwalking through life and now we're movie makers, and this could be a masterpiece.

It's the last night of filming and we've snuck into some farmer's barn and everyone is in love with everyone and Paul has a crazy idea to film it upside down from the hole in the roof. I want to impress the girl, the girl wants to impress the bearded guy, and the bearded guy wants to impress upon us his greatness. So we all dive in and climb our way up to the roof and balance the camera using sticks and bananas and hope.
Filming ends and no-one wants to go home, because we all have work or school or unemployment in the morning. It's back to something and it isn't the movies.

You never get this back. The pure joy, the wonder, the naivety. It's everything.

Care to share?

My Film Blog Facts

1. All of my writings are spur of the moment.

2. I write fluidly and post immediately. If I'm at the computer I spell check, if I'm using my phone I don't.

3. If there are no images you know I've published from my phone.

4. I give advice a lot but am generally uneasy about doing so because I think that, for the most part when it comes to art: you should do what you want and find your own way.

5. I often delay arranging and conducting interviews due to laziness.

6. My favorite interview on the site is with Scott Rosenberg.

7. I often want to delete posts after publishing, but never do.

8. I would rather my posts be art than give advice on art. i.e. rather than write a blog called 'be creative!' I'd rather write something creative. This is an aim for the future.

9. I have turned down a lot of sponsorship and advertising opportunities, because they're not in line with what I preach.

10. I feel I've yet to find the true purpose of this blog.

Bonus fact: While writing this I listened to 'Many Rivers To Cross' by Jimmy Cliff and 'We'll Meet Again" by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

Care to share?

Writing To Budget: Make Opportunities Out Of Limitations

You hear people say things like "I'd never shoot on anything less than a Canon 5D" or "I only work with a Red camera". While it is exciting to work with great cameras, you may find you can't afford them. Even when you can afford the rental fees, it may be that your editing system cannot handle the files.

These limitations are often daunting for new filmmakers -- but I'm here to say, don't let it stop you making a film.

Nobody wants to shoot on DV any more. People look down on it. They shot "Once" and "28 Days Later" on Mini-DV. If it's good enough for John Carney and Danny Boyle, I'm sure you'll be fine with your short movie.

Sure, maybe you want the cinematic look you get with the Red, or the beautiful crispness you get with a 5D. But this is a post for those who don't have those privileges right at this moment.

The Indie filmmaking wisdom is, of course, "shoot with whatever you can get your hands on". This is great advice but you need to take it in the right way. Most people hear that as "do the best you can" -- but I think you need to see it more as: "this is a wonderful opportunity!"

You or someone you know has a video phone. That's good enough to get started and make some films.

Here's a tip: don't pretend it's a film camera. Don't try to hide the fact you have no crew. Instead, embrace what you have and make it part of your story.

Here's some ideas off the top of my head that could inspire ideas for a smartphone-video film.

-The world is about to end and two friends decide to capture the final moments.

-Two women, for fun, decide to document their dating lives with video diaries.

-A couple staying in a hotel are convinced it's haunted, so they film happenings on their phones.

-A kid decides to secretly film his parent's marriage difficulties.

They are just ideas. Let's look at the last one; a kid films his parents arguing. The story could be the same as a bigger budget film about divorce, but filmed with just a phone it'll have a rawness and truthfulness. Plus it's filmed from the point of view of the child, which could be heartbreaking.

If you like horror, look at Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity, those types of ideas you can film on your phone.

Same goes for any camera. What if all you have is your Uncle's old camera which has a broken lense? Use it! Make up a story where the characters document what happened using a broken camera.

These restraints are wonderful opportunities to overcome limitations. Use your imagination!

Films are made everyday on big beautiful cameras. But guess what? A lot of them are BAD. Equipment quality has nothing to do with how good you are at telling a story.

So go tell a story.

Care to share?

Feedback

Here is a comment from my post 'Miracle Best' that I wanted to share because I was blown away by it. The comment was by a fellow blogger, papatigga

Man...I've really been struggling with the thought of embarking on a new journey at such a late stage of my life...I own a home and have a family, a job that some may view as being somewhat successful yet I feel so unfulfilled and empty. I feel this way because I have always taken the safe route and never took a real chance in life. There are so many opportunities that I have let pass me by for fear of failure...chances that may have brought me, and my family true happiness, yet I was content with mediocrity...a mediocrity that is now manifesting itself into a depression and feeling of failure. The very feeling I was trying to avoid. In the movie "Kung Fu Panda" the wise turtle said that 'The road we chose to avoid our destiny is often the road that leads us to it." (paraphrasing). How true this statement is, only now accompanying my feeling of failure is a feeling of regret. I have been asking for a sign as to what I should do with my life and I truly feel as if stumbling upon your blog may be that sign. This post has inspired me to reach out beyond what I see as my boundaries and create new boundaries for myself and my family. No longer will I be content with being content. Thank you ....

Care to share?

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Cameron Crowe is BACK!


The "We Bought A Zoo" trailer has all the Croweisms we crave -- the leaving of the workplace heroically, the overt hand gestures, the big heart, Tom Petty, a big romance. After 'Elizabethtown' a lot of people thought his bubble had burst -- but here he is again.. and I'm excited!





Back when Cameron Crowe was a teenager writing reviews for magazines, I don't imagine he knew that he'd be making movies someday. Cameron is the perfect director for 'Pearl Jam Twenty', he lives for music. He understands it better than anyone who isn't a musician -- and he makes us realise how much we love it too. I'm a fan of Pearl Jam; not a big fan, but a fan -- yet this trailer makes me feel like they're the greatest band ever. That's Cameron Crowe for you. He shows us the greatest little subtleties of music. He shows us who Pearl Jam really are.

Care to share?

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Miracle Best

I had this vision of how we could be absolutely everything. Limitless potential. When you meet someone in the street, you get to decide whether to be grumpy, or mildly acceptable, or to be the happy and free person you've always dreamed of being.

Our ages and our circumstances and our privileges or lack thereof are all real, and they influence so many things -- but so much more is left down to us. How often do we stand up and be all that we can be?

Hardly ever, is what I was thinking. But then maybe I'm just speaking about me.

That's why I like movies. Everyone is at their very best. Or at their very worst. Usually one of the extremes. Most of the time they complete a miracle change and go from bad to best in just under two hours.

Yet I don't think it's a miracle at all.

We hide behind imaginary walls, full in the safety of our homes and jobs and safety nets -- very rarely reaching out for everything.

Because it's scary, right? You can apply it to your creativity, and see all the times you've called yourself a writer but your actions have shown you to be anything but. Or you can look at your life -- and see how many times you said you'd go to the party but didn't. Or when you said you'd travel across the country to see a friend but found all the reasons not to.


And life goes and goes and disappears into nothing so quickly. You remember a day gone by from some year with a number much lower than this one and picture a moment of joy and completeness and oneness with yourself and with someone you were close to.

And that was far too long ago.

You figure life will throw you good times and opportunities and magic but really it's down to you, down to the amount of times you turn up rather than hide out. You were a Kid In The Front Row some time long ago - you'd try anything, go anywhere, stick your hand in the oven only to learn that it burns.

We don't want to get burned anymore -- so you play it safe and realise days have gone by and you're left with no heat at all.

You wake up one morning and put your socks on and realise this day will be a great one or a bad one or an indifferent one or maybe, if you're lucky, a mixture of all three and more. It's down to you and it's down to you and it's down to you. Scary, right?

Care to share?

Friday, 23 September 2011

Youth / Old Age

There are two types of people in the world. Actually there are probably a lot more but these two types are so polarized and so prevalent in my life that I feel I need to address them. Because they'll be relevant to you too.

It's old age against youth. But I'm not talking years, I'm talking attitude. To be creative is to be five years old, lost in the possibilities, judging nothing, believing everything and anything anytime you can. You dream big and reach far.

And your life is filled with failure and near misses but you keep firing on, casing the promised land like some lost soul in a Springsteen song.

Old age is when you think you know the world. Think that what is is. You judge everything, because you know better. You know it's impossible.

And you're so quick to cut down anyone who tries. You throw lines at them about responsibility and risk and grown upness, and you're not satisfied until you've killed the young, left them losering, forced into drowning out their dreams and settling for a life surrounded by the same three people bitching about the weather.

This dynamic plays out in everyday circumstances. You get the choice to be caught up in the magic of life or you can claim to know the exact nature of everything and shut it down, close it off and hibernate until death.

Care to share?

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Thoughts On Writing

Any time you create; it's possible you'll create the greatest thing ever. It's unlikely, but it has to be possible, right? Your favourite book or movie or whatever, it was created by a human, I'm pretty sure of it.

Those of us who call ourselves writers; I don't think the dream is ever to be adequate. We wanna transcend. Wanna reach in where it matters.

So what does it take? Do you know it when you've made it?

Even if you know, will everyone else? Will your girlfriend know you've written something transcendent? Will your English teacher see your brilliance? Will the Facebook friend who thinks you're a waster be moved by your written words?

That's the strange thing, the individuals don't matter. Everyone who puts you down or disregards you has the potential to be wrong. Likewise, the masses have a tendency to miss out on brilliance at every opportunity.

I guess the only thing that really matters with your work is going to bed knowing you've done the best you can. Because when you've done well, you feel good. Maybe five million people like it or maybe only fifty. Just know that whatever the amount, it's enough.

Care to share?

Just Outside Of Amsterdam

She was just a girl falling off a bike in a street somewhere near Amsterdam. I was only in town for a week. I only met her because I got lost looking for a way back to town.

She rode hard and fast into a wall which refused to move. She smashed into it and her bike flew up into the air as she dived into the wall, before smacking down on the pavement.

I asked if she needed help and hoped she spoke English and that she didn't need help. She did speak English and she did need help and when I should have been worrying about her leg that was bent all weird backwards I was instead falling in love with her eyes which were the most truthful things I'd ever seen.

The night rolled on by in some Dutch hospital full of sad people with her by my side. It's messed up but I didn't want to leave. Didn't want to face the fact that she would go back to her real life and her boyfriend and I'd go back to England and my Xbox. I didn't know for sure that she had a boyfriend except I did know for sure because sometimes you just know.

I turned to her and said "So I guess you need to--" and she jumped in before I said "go home" and said the sweetest words ever: "let me buy you dinner."

She bought me dinner and her beautiful blonde hair and truthful eyes danced in front of me for hours. I was at my best on this night. My jokes worked and my heart jumped high and my words pleased her.

Her leg healed up quick but I still insisted on carrying her home like some crazy fool all buzzed up on the Amsterdam breeze. We cracked on through the backstreets of somewhere, and I told her how excited I was by her. She kissed me and life hit its peak immediately.

Isn't life great when it's like that? You figure it's all set and steady and then one night you're in the wrong town and you find everything you ever needed. Her eyes continued to kill me in the best way but I knew she had a boyfriend and then I asked the question and wished I could take it back.

She looked down at the floor and both our hearts fell a little. "It's not what you think", she said, "and anyway, you live in a whole other country".

We kissed again but it was imbued with a sadness and then she enquired about my flight home. It went all funny and weird moments after it was great and then before I knew it I was headed home with only an email address scribbled on a napkin.

And I lost the fucking napkin.

Her name was Katya.

The above was a piece of fiction written in twenty minutes. I'm on a trip with friends and they're playing some board game that bores me like crazy so I tried cook up some fiction. Let me know what you think.

Care to share?

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Facebook Stories -- A trilogy by famous authors but not really

The Facebook Login
By Jack Kerouac

I rushed forward like I always do and made my way to Facebook in the hope of catching up with old souls from the west who made my heart go boom like big diamonds that cut through the Denver sky.

I was waiting on some girl who said she'd wait for me if I posted on her wall. My heart flew the distance of everything as I raced on towards the big login screen ready to be with everyone at the very least.

My password failed like a cold winter rain and I longed for MySpace where the girls stayed online until the sun went out all wild and screaming like those sad gone girls from New York.

The Friend Count
By Woody Allen

Ike Krimolewitz was as liked as he was tall, which is to say, not at all. His friend list was the same as his height -- in minus digits.

Ike had done everything to make friends, which included poking every member of the group 'Poke Me And We'll Definitely Be Friends'. Unfortunately nobody had time to add him as they were all too busy deciding whether to maybe attend an event, not attend an event, or maybe not attend an event that they were definitely attending.

Despite having -12 friends, Ike was determinded to find a new acquaintance, which is why he created a fake profile under the name of Mary La Bon. Mary was a beautiful woman with an abundant chest, but unfortunately she was a hateful lesbian who refused to have male friends. This frustrated Ike greatly, because not only was Mary his own creation, but she had also convinced him to email over his private bank details.

The Facebook Poke
By Roald Dahl

Michael thought the Facebook Poke was the most fantastic invention in the history of the world. The magical chance had arrived to poke somebody else with only one click of a button.

The thing you have to know, about Michael; is that he cared very deeply about his first Facebook poke. Should he poke Jenny, the prettiest girl he'd ever seen? Or should he poke old Mrs. Friggit and knock the old witch off her feet?

Michael knew the wisest thing was to poke Jenny, but bubbling in his mischievous head was the fantasy of knocking old Friggit off her feet.

Many people have moments of greatness. This was Michael's chance. He logged onto Facebook and looked excitedly at two profiles. Jenny and Mrs Friggit. But who was it to be?

Care to share?

Sunday, 18 September 2011

ALLY MCBEAL & Me

"The truth is, I probably don't want to be too happy or content, 'cause then what? I actually like the quest, the search. That's the fun. The more lost you are, the more you have to look forward to. What do you know? I'm having a great time and I don't even know it."
-Ally McBeal

This show is in my heart. Completely and utterly. I loved every moment of it. I still watch it regularly.

I think it happens for most people, they get a core group of TV shows that stick with them for life. You start out thinking you're being entertained but soon realise it's something more -- you're finding something that resonates with who you are and what your life is about.

The characters in Ally McBeal prioritized their relationships. And they navigated through them by following their instincts, their dreams and their inner lives. Decisions were made from the heart, with the warm support of close friends. I responded to that.


I feel marginalized from so many of my directing peers and fellow bloggers, because most people are so exact about what makes a show good. They could provide data and statistics which explain why one TV show is better than the other. I can't do that, I don't have that skill.

I've been wanting to write an article about my love for 'Ally Mcbeal' ever since I started the blog. But I could never find the words, or the justification. But it's not about justification, it's about being yourself and trusting what is meaningful to you.

Throw on an old episode of Ally McBeal and I'll be instantly satisfied and happy, in a complete flow state, fully engaged in the world David E. Kelley created. I think that John Cage (Peter MacNicol) and Richard Fish (Greg Germann) are the funniest television characters ever created. You can say "don't be ridiculous" and name 100 funnier characters and you'd be right. But not to me. Cage and Fish still have me in hysterics all these years later.


That's what reviewers and critics never get, how personal our tastes are. My favourite films, TV shows and characters are shaped by my life; my upbringing, my friends, the media I was exposed to as a kid, the things I found funny, the books I've read, the places I've been. Who cares who wins the official prizes? It means nothing if the heart doesn't agree.

My heart is fully in love with 'Ally McBeal'. The Romanticism. The outrageously crazy humour. The relationships. They all speak to me. I talk about the dialogue of Billy Wilder and Aaron Sorkin almost daily -- but David E. Kelley has probably been an even bigger influence on me.

I love the music. I love the idea that after work everyone goes downstairs to the bar, where there's a woman playing fabulous music every night. I want that. The music was a key part of the show. Vonda Shepard singing beautiful renditions of Motown classics. John Cage listening to Barry White, and BECOMING Barry White so that he could be confident around women. Or the heartbreaking moment when Larry Paul (Robert Downey Jr) sings Joni Mitchell's 'River', without realising Ally is listening.

At first glance, the title character, Ally, is just annoying and narcissistic. That's how so many of the great characters are at first glance (Alvy Singer, David Brent, etc). Ally went much deeper. She was written masterfully and portrayed perfectly by Calista Flockhart. Here's a character who is a top lawyer at a Boston law form, but she spends most of her time daydreaming about love while fighting off imaginary dancing babies while hallucinating about Al Green. How many actors could pull that off? This was Calista's masterpiece.


As I watch the show now I am increasingly aware of how intelligent it was. I just watched an episode where John Cage is defending a woman accused of sexual harassment. At the end of the episode Cage gives a rousing speech about how the laws were made to help women and not men, because they have been oppressed by men for hundreds of years, not the other way around. It's a poignant moment, full of awareness about male privilege and its role in shaping society. Elsewhere in the same episode, a transsexual client is in court fighting her employer for her right to not disclose information about herself.

When I was younger, I'd just enjoy the entertainment. Now I can see the extra layers. For example in that episode, like so many of them, it brought gender and our experience of it in society to the centre. The show was braver than people realised.

The humour undoubtedly seeped into me, as did the style of dialogue, but now I can see everything else did too. I care about the things the characters cared about. This show did have an impact on who I became.

If you haven't seen 'Ally McBeal' I'm not going to insist you see it. The years have flown by and we're all so different. Just know that if you like my writing, it's probably, in some hard to explain way, greatly influenced by Ally McBeal.

Care to share?

Fuel In The Tank

The general wisdom is: watch as many movies as you can in as many genres as you can. I understand that and agree with it in principle, although it has never worked for me.

I mostly focus on what I love. On what makes my soul stir. If I die tomorrow I don't want to have wasted my time watching Japanese films I don't understand, or Hollywood films that I've figured out after nine minutes.

I chase greatness. I wanna find the artists. I crave that feeling I got when I first saw "Adventureland" or "Once" or "The West Wing". Those of you who are regulars here will know what I mean. Because my blogging isn't diverse, I cover the same ground often. I go after the things I love, the things that speak to me. I'm not here to review every new release. I watch them, but mostly have nothing to say about them.

The films I love have a big impact on me. After watching Woody Allen films I feel monumentally inspired. I can't wait to sit down with my laptop and storm through some dialogue.

When I watch Cameron Crowe movies I feel so alert to the little intricacies of life. The shared moments. It opens up a part of me, a part that loves to meet people on the road, that likes to stand up for an ideal in a crowded office, or likes to sing along to Elton John. It opens it all up.


It's fuel.

I've been re-watching 'Ally McBeal' and 'One Foot In The Grave'. Those shows reignite something inside of me, because they're who I am.

I'm not the guy they hire to write the new comic book movie, nor can I write the film where Leo dives through alternate realities and shoots the bad guy and takes down the FBI. Someone else focused on that as a kid and they fill the tank up on something different.

I'm optimised for the narrow field I'm most interested in.

All my life; through fascination, awe, and careful study, I've seen these traits in all my heroes. They zone in on what they're passionate about, what fuels their art.

It's all too easy to marginalize and oppress the very things that, in all actuality, are at the core of your creativity. The things that influence us the most we often tuck into a corner and assume we've outgrown or already stripped for parts.

But everyone has to refuel. Top yourself up on what you love, because that stuff is a drug that will have you leaping into the skies as an artist.

Care to share?

Studios V Independents

Fans of the indies often see the studio flicks as dumb. Fans of studio pictures see the indies as snorefests.

Both perspectives miss the point.

You get great movies in both systems. It's just the odds are different.

Woody Allen is an independent. His films are mostly (but not always) funded outside of Hollywood. His content is very independent, he has full control and doesn't ask for opinions from the investors or producers.

The good: Sometimes he makes 'Annie Hall' and 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona'.

The bad: Sometimes he makes 'Scoop'.

And 'Scoop' was atrocious.


Here's the thing -- nobody can sustain genius every time. If you have a true artist on your hands, they'll push the boundaries of a) what's expected and, b) what they're capable of.

Which means they'll sometimes fail, no matter how good they are.

The studios are scared of failure. Especially as they like to spend money. Imagine if Woody Allen directed 'Friends With Benefits' and had final cut privilege. What would happen?  Maybe it'd be awful because he doesn't know the lifestyles of the characters, and because he'd rework the script to make the ending less predictable... by doing that he'd alienate all the viewers who just want to see Kunis and Timberlake flirt and kiss.

Or maybe he'd create a masterpiece because he's one of the all time great writer/director's of the New York rom-com. With the studio cash, schedule, and talent; he could achieve great things.

But the risk is too big. (And Woody is a bad example, because he wouldn't ever take that job)

So instead we get a studio made flick which is filtered through producers and studio heads and focus groups.

And sure, the film is likable and many people will like it. It does its job and makes money.

People might enjoy 'Friends With Benefits' but underneath the sweet dialogue and quirky characters is standard formula. The film doesn't transcend. It doesn't change your life. And it never will, because of how it's made.


When you make 'Annie Hall' it might end up being 'Manhattan' or it might end up being 'Scoop'. You just don't know. But when you make 'Friends With Benefits' you make 'Friends With Benefits'. The potential for greatness is blocked, impossible.

The exceptions: Spielberg, Abrams, Eastwood, Tarantino.

These guys rose to the top by being blessed with a touch of genius. Hard work, too, but mostly genius.

They may do work within the studios but they have the attitude of an independent, and the power. Spielberg is like an excited Kid, Eastwood has exquisite instincts, and Tarantino is an obsessive maniac.

They stand out as unique and independent spirits.

That's what you need. If you make independently funded films based on things you're passionate about, the door is open for greatness. But it's also open for disaster.

Working in the studio system safeguards against disaster as best as it can. But you only get to make art if you rise to the top by being marked with creative genius and an ability to pull in giant audiences.

Care to share?

Friday, 16 September 2011

Writing Comedy - A Few Starter Tips

Let's focus on a scene where a woman and man are sitting on a sofa talking. How can we make it funny?

1. The sofa is about to collapse.

2. The woman needs to pee.

3. The man suddenly goes blind.

4. They both go blind at the same time.

5. There's a dead body under the sofa. It's also blind.

6. The man has a fear of sitting.

7. The woman has a fear of men who have a fear of sitting.

8. The man has a fear of sitting and the woman, who's sitting down, has a fear of standing up. The dead body has a fear of neither but refuses to move.

9. The sofa has a fear of people sitting on it.

10. The sofa belongs to the man, who's OCD about stains. The woman is eating a curry. With her hands.

Comedy is everywhere. The ideas above; maybe you found five of them funny, maybe only one or even none. There's no harm in exploring scenerios. That took me fifty seconds to do.

Chaplin used to get on set and just start playing around with props to see what was funny. That's most of what comedy is.

Care to share?

BOB LEFSETZ on being an ARTIST

When Bob Lefsetz' muse in turned on, there's nobody better than him. A few days back he wrote a post called 'Artists'. Here are some key points.

"As a result of crass commercialism, primarily MTV and now the Silicon Valley rush to riches, our vision of art has been skewed. Money comes first. It’s readily available to he who succeeds, and there are short cuts to ubiquity. But most people employing these short cuts are not art."

"So there are two camps.

One camp is peopled by aggressive individuals who want in. This is the reality television crowd. How can I make myself into a character, push ahead of so many others and get screen time? Remember the art kids in high school? They never grubbed for grades, they never fought to get ahead, they questioned this herd mentality/behavior, they hung back."

"So we have a world where the aggressive, normal people and the desperate poor will do anything to make it, get plastic surgery, change their soul and their sound to fit the desires of the man, of the system.

Ain’t that what "American Idol", "The Voice" and "X Factor" are? Do it my way, I’m an expert. The judge/advisor is no different from the principal, and if you think the art kids listened to the principal, you were home-schooled and have no clue."

"But don’t confuse commercialism with artistry. Most people are just passing through. Their stardom is brief, they’re puppets whose strings are pulled. When their moment is through, they get desultory day jobs or go back to college and move up the corporate ladder. An artist can’t do this. He can go to college to prepare himself to be an artist, but not a doctor, lawyer or manager. And he continues to create irrelevant of success, it’s in him."

"With the crumbling of old institutions, the time of the artist has returned. With less money in music, only the artists persevere, because they’re not in it for the money. There’s a reason why Joni Mitchell is an icon and Vanilla Ice is a joke."
Make sure you read the whole thing here.

Care to share?

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Starbucks Profundity

I'm sitting in a Starbucks just across the road from Tottenham Court Road station, and was just hit by this pang of missing New York. This Starbucks reminds me so much of the one in Manhattan, somewhere between 66 St and Columbus Circle. There are probably twenty Starbucks between those seven streets, yet somehow I'm longing for a particular one.

The cynical thing is to say that all Starbucks are the same and whether you're in London, New York or Japan, Starbucks is Starbucks.

But the way it feels right at this moment is that I could be in New York. The feelings I'm feeling, that longing and comfort and excitement in my mind, it feels like New York, not London.

It seems accidental, and outside of my control. Sometimes I can be so stuck in one place, one idea, one feeling. But sometimes I'm able to be somewhere else in my mind completely.

Right now it's in Starbucks with Bry, somewhere just North of 59th St. He's as good as here. I'm as good as there. The mind is amazing like that, how we can be transported across borders and time. So much of creativity is getting out of your current condition and finding another feeling, another insight, another reality. If only it was as easy as it feels right now.

I've had this all my life. Little pieces of poignancy, where I'm picked up from nowhere and carted off into another world. The lady with the laptop who just looked at me thinks I'm sitting in front of her when really I'm a thousand miles away. I want to step out of the door and take a walk in Central Park. Maybe I will. Whether it's for real or in my imagination, what's the difference?

Care to share?

Take Risks

On any given day in any given year you meet an actress and she says "I want to develop a one act play about poverty", and you meet a writer who is planning a script about what it was like growing up on a farm, and some guy goes out of his way to tell you about a project he wants to do, taking photographs of all the red phone boxes in London.

Dreams and visions and hopes live in these projects. You fast forward six months or four years and none of the projects are done.

What does it take for someone to get started? How do you stay with it through the hard stuff? What kind of person do you need to be to find your way to the finishing line?

Saying you're thinking of doing something is the easy part. If you want to be someone who finishes a project you have to be someone who finishes the project.

Don't hold out for perfection. No art is ever perfect. But creating something is always more perfect than creating nothing at all. Imperfections and problems breed your very best moments as an artist. Take risks.

Care to share?

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

VUE WESTFIELD STATFORD CITY - New Cinema Review

The opening of a brand new cinema is always an exciting thing because we are always being told that cinema is dying. The opening of a 17 screen Vue Cinema in London's Olympic city allows us to believe otherwise. It also gives us something to do while all the corporations and politicians hog the tickets to the Olympic games.


Another thing to consider is that Stratford already has a cinema, the Stratford Picturehouse. And nearby there is also the historic Genesis Cinema, the Rio and many others. There is also a big Cineworld at the o2 (formerly owned by Vue). What impact does this cinema have on other movie theatres?

It's going to have a big impact. The independent cinemas struggle already, and now having a Vue nearby, in Europe's biggest shopping mall no less, is going to attract local cinema-goers, as well as the passers by who are eager for a movie.

Is that totally a bad thing? It's easy to be nostalgic about the Genesis, for example, but which place gives you the best experience?

I visited Stratford Vue Cinema on the opening day. An afternoon screening. It's quite possible I'm the first person who ever sat in that seat. I have to say, it was a very comfortable seat. This is probably because I was in a VIP seat (which I didn't pay for). If I was sitting where I was meant to be sitting I'd have had the first two and a half rows to choose from. The other five or so are for the VIP people. VIP?? Very Important Person?? The only importance these people have is the economic luxury of being comfortable with being conned.


But let me be honest -- I loved the experience. The screen was big, the picture quality perfect, the sound quality the best I've experienced in a long time. The seats were great too -- Vue use a steep seating design, which is like stadium seating, so the person in front is considerably lower than you are, meaning you get a perfect view of the screen. The film was projected flawlessly, I had plenty of leg-room, and because of the steep-seating, people's annoying checking-of-their-Blackberries was obscured from my view. In fact, there was no phone reception in the cinema, so all of that was kept to a minimum. I hope this is always the case!

Vue have done everything right in Stratford. They've mastered the art of the modern multiplex. The problem is, it's still a multiplex. Aside from a few Bollywood selections for the local Asian community, the films they show are hardly surprising. If you're a normal, sane person -- there's not much to complain about. But then if you're someone like me, you'll be craving the smaller cinemas. The old popcorn smell, the uncomfortable seating, the ever changing temperature. It's like football stadiums. The new Wembley sucks. Arsenal's stadium sucks. Everyone craves going to places like Upton Park, White Hart Lane and Anfield. They have history. They're places where you have memorable experiences. You'll never have the best cinematic experience of your life at a Vue chain. That's not what they're about. Vue cinemas are about watching a film and having enough space in your VIP seat to put all your M&S shopping bags. 

I give Vue Westfield Stratford City two ratings. My more objective, fact-based rating, is 8 out of 10. It loses points for the horrid premium seating system and also for having the disabled spaces in the very front row (normally cinemas make better spaces available a bit further back). It also misses out on top points because of the film selection. With 17 screens, they could be a lot more diverse than they are. 

That's my objective rating. 

My personal rating? 6 out of 10

The place has no soul! This is not what I love about the cinema! Segregating people based on VIP non-VIP? Cinema should never be about exclusion. People come to the cinema to get away from their problems, not to be reminded that they're poor. People getting standard tickets are stuck in the front couple of rows, the richer people sit further back. 

Ever been in screen one at the Cineworld Haymarket? Or spent a night at the Genesis? You're not just watching film, you're partaking in an event. A ritual. A place that feels like a place for films. You know you're in for a treat, because films are something special there. Watching films in a shopping mall is not the same. And sure I'm biased, I feel protective of the little guys. I hope the Stratford Picturehouse will survive. Maybe it'll drive them to commit to showing more alternative programming -- world cinema and independent movies. They can build up their reputation during the Olympics. Show the world what cinema is really about, rather than trying to prize people away from Vue with the same 'Transformers 4' or whatever's out next year. The Prince Charles Cinema in the West End has shown that being alternative and independent can work in the over-crowded multiplex market.

Inside the Prince Charles Cinema 

If you find yourself in East London, I'll understand if you want to visit Vue, and I won't judge you. After all, I'll be there sometimes too. But just remember what you're doing. If we're not careful, we'll kill what we love about cinema. The Rio opened in 1909. The Genesis has been a venue for entertainment for over 150 years. Keep your clothes shopping and your cinema viewing separate if you can.


Empire Cinema, 1946. Now known as The Genesis Cinema.

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Monday, 12 September 2011

The Old Age Art Project - An Experiment In Creative Blocks

Elena is one of my closest friends. I've known her for twelve years. Our lives are quite different these days -- she works long hours in a supermarket and I am making films. When we can, we meet up for a tea and catch up on each others lives and chat about days gone by. 

And then we talk about our careers. In fact, we met up this time because Elena is getting a bit restless in her job and wants to move on to something new. We planned to meet up, drink some tea, and then I would help her craft her new C.V, ready to send out to potential employers. We talked about potential jobs and where she saw herself working. 

The thing you need to know about Elena, is that she's a very talented artist. I've seen the stuff she did in her teens -- it was amazing. Extremely creative and unusual -- she really had her own style. But somewhere along the way, the creativity stopped. Life got in the way, and the paintbrushes dried solid. Whenever we meet up -- inevitably we get on to talking about art. We're quite similar in our creative thoughts and ideals. The difference being that I create a lot more work than she does. In recent years, she hasn't been creating anything at all. Whenever the thought arises, she instantly blocks it out, dismisses it, and moves on to other things. Whether it's distractions, commitments, or plain old self-sabotage -- she's never able to be creative. 

As we talked about potential career moves, it was very obvious to me that sitting in front of me is a talented artist. Underpinning all the thoughts about job changes and mortgages and bills is the fact that there's an artist bursting with talent. The problem is, that artist has been stuffed away and lost. Occasionally, she pops up and picks up a paintbrush or a pencil, but she's soon knocked down again by the world, and by herself. 

As we sat there drinking tea and eating pancakes -- I ripped off a piece of paper from my notebook and said "I want you to draw something about an old person and pancakes. You have three minutes."

I handed it over to her. She said no. Dismissed the idea. Her creativity doesn't work like that. I understood; neither does mine. So I ripped out two more pages and said "Tell me what to do and I'll write a two page scene." She said "Old people and feet." I wrote the scene immediately. It wasn't my best work ever, but I'd written it. I completed the task. 

I handed her my pen and offered these words: "Old age. Pancakes." She took the pen and paper and began working. I relaxed and browsed my Twitter feed. 

Three minutes later, she had created this:


What do you think? I think that's talent. Three minutes with my old pen and a piece of scrap paper. I loved it. 

I said that we should do a bigger project. Elena gave me her cute grumpy look which means NO WAY. Elena can be a perfectionist with her work. A huge reason that she doesn't create is because of how demanding her inner-critic is. When she creates, it has to be greatness. So I took the pressure off. I told her that the project will be anonymous and I'll share it on the blog. That way, even if it sucks, you won't know it's her personally. 

I gave her five scraps of paper and my pen. My rules were that she must create five drawings in a one week period, all on the topic of 'Old Age'. I also insisted that she use these scraps of paper and the pen that I gave her. If the drawings sucked? If they were useless? That's fine. The project is not about perfection, it's merely about creating. 

A week later, she gave me back the completed project. Her first art-work in years.





After it was completed, I interviewed Elena about the process. 

Prior to when we met up -- when was the last time you created a piece of art?

To be honest I doodled a little self portrait (from behind) maybe a week before this project. It came out of feeling totally frustrated that I couldn't just DO something. And then I did. It was small and weak looking but that corresponded with how I was feeling at that moment in time.

What has stopped you from doing it for so long?

Whenever I think abut drawing or creating anything my mind predictably connects back to a time in school when things were just awful for me, emotionally. I just cant seem to detach the way I was feeling and the things that happened back then, to make me lose faith in my sense of self, from present day life. It is a struggle to just do something and not stop half way through and tear it to pieces, both mentally and physically.

What is your ideal setting/environment for doing creative work?

I used to think I had an environment. Like I know at a previous time in life it was all about turning the music up and blocking outside family noise and just being with myself and the way I felt. But for this project I found myself doodling in the garden with my coffee and in the company of my fiance while he played me the most recent album on his iPhone. It seems that I needed to be in a calm state, ready for things to flow. Far different from the way it used to be.

How did you feel when I handed you a piece of paper and said 'You have three minutes to draw something about an old person?'

So unbelievably under pressure I could have cried. In fact I felt myself get all teary eyed! Thinking any minute now I am going to explode from this overwhelming fear. All over a 2 minute doodle.

How did you feel after you had created it?

Unsure, and nervous awaiting your reaction. It seems I'm not happy with having just done something creative; it has to be approved of and liked and blah di blah... But after I took a few deep breaths and realised that I liked it even if you didn't, (I did..), I felt elated! Thrilled that I'd managed to not run away from the paper, pen and expectation.

When I first mentioned doing the 'Old Age Art Project' and handed you five scraps of paper, what did you think?

'Is he being serious?'

'Doodles on scraps of paper? Is that really art? Especially if it was done by me. A no-establishment trained ''artist'''?

Then I thought, Fuck it! Why not. Even if they never get seen by anyone else other than myself I will know I did it. I was set a project and I did it.

Was you confident about doing it? Did you think you'd complete the task?

Initially I was excited and positive and full of this self belief. I never doubted that I could complete the task. The resistance I felt towards actually drawing on the last piece of paper was surprising and almost silly.

Where did you get your ideas from?

Some were memories, some were from what I saw around me and some were just from my mind. The old man with his iPod and the carnival queen came about from thinking that these ''old people'' were us. They were youth and they have these whole lives that we disregard or don't even contemplate.

What was it like working with a deadline?

Good. Exhilarating. 

Are you happy with what you created?

Yes. Some I'm more proud of than others.

Which one is your favourite?

The old man and the seaside couple.

Has this project helped you/your art in any way?

It has made me want to devote more time to creating. I still find it hard to make myself sit down and not allow the distractions of everyday stuff whisk me away from self-development


  • The hardest thing is sitting down to do the work. 
  • Have a deadline. 
  • Don't let your imperfect location/mindset be an excuse for not doing the work. 

Elena is a great artist. It's a shame to me that she's been stopping herself from creating for so long. This is what we do as artists. This blog is richer for having published her scrap paper drawings. Art matters. The drawings exist for the mere reason that she drew them. If she didn't draw them then she wouldn't have drawn them and you wouldn't have seen them. Think of all the things that you've never seen because artists stopped themselves from playing, experimenting and creating. 

You don't need a big canvas or an expensive camera or a big money offer to create art. Use scrap paper. Use a camera phone. Use things you find in the garden. 

Now some questions for you. What do you think of this experiment? What do you think of Elena's work? 

Care to share?

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Previously, On THE WEST WING: A Collection Of Articles and Interviews

I love 'The West Wing'. Perhaps, instead of this film blog, I should have just started a 'The West Wing' fan page. In fact, that's kind of what Kid In The Front Row is. Today I decided to look back at the things I have written about the show in the past couple of years, along with the interviews I have been very lucky to do with the cast and crew of the show. 


My hope was always to interview Aaron Sorkin, the creator, but thus far he has remained elusive, apart from a few kind notes/responses. But there's still the hope that, some time in the future when his schedule allows, we will finally get that interview.

 The Articles 


"Many years ago - my Uncle said to me, "You must watch The West Wing," and I thought yeah right, whatever. No-one tells me what to watch. But he was persistent and he lent me the first season. And I began watching it. My life changed."  

Here is a note I received from the show's creator, Aaron Sorkin, after that post.

"Front Row,

Thanks so much for the amazing tribute to the show. You really made my day and I'll be sending it around to everyone on the cast and crew list.

Thanks again,

Aaron"

Read the full article here.

 

December 20th 2010 - Previously, On The West Wing

Some thoughts I had after watching the entire series of TWW for the gazillionth time.

"THE WEST WING represented an idea. It's about 5.30am wake-up calls. It's about dedicating who you are to something bigger than yourself. It's about loyalty and doing something that matters. It's about working weekends and having dinner at 11pm on a Thursday night in the office because you have to get things done, because if you don't the world isn't going to operate properly come the morning. "

Read the full article here.


I always loved John Spencer's work on the show. After seven seasons of being in the company of a character, you really feel like you know them. There was something extremely poignant about the work of John Spencer. He carried a weight, a gravitas, while also being sensitive and warm. His final episodes before his real life (and then on screen) death, feature some of his greatest work. 

I spoke to Eli Attie about John Spencer. 


"John's death left a gaping hole in the middle of the show, a cavernous vacuum, and the rest of Season Seven was largely a reaction to that--a memorial to him and to the creative world he helped to shape and lead."
-Eli Attie 

Read the full article and Eli's touching words about John here.


INTERVIEWS

Eli Attie - Supervising Producer/Writer


Eli was a writer on the show from 2001 until the show ended, in 2006. In the final years he also served as a Supervising Producer.

"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."

Read the full interview here.


 
Josh played the role of Will Bailey. What I wrote in my intro to the interview is something I still stand by: Josh is one of the most underrated actors in the industry today.

"
Tommy is one of the great Producer/Directors out there, and for my money, no one writes like Aaron. But I give credit to John Wells and the writing staff for keeping TWW going as a really great, quality show for the remainder of its run."

Read the full interview here

Larry and Ed were two of the more memorable reoccuring character's from the show. But who are the actors who portrayed them? I decided to find out.



"Would I have liked a few storylines? Absolutely. But I would never trade in a moment I was on that show. For me, it was one of – if not the – best experience of my acting career so far."

Read the full interview here.

"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."

Read the full interview here.





Okay, so I didn't get to do a full interview with Aaron. But he did take the time to answer a question about writers block for the readers of KITFR.

"
Every time I finish something I think I'm never going to be able to write anything else. And every time I start something I think that this is the one where I'm going to get found out as a fraud."

Read the full answer here.

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HOLOCAUST FILM: The Grey Zone

When you visit Auschwitz, you spend most of your time imagining: how the hell did this happen? What was it like? How did they feel?


"The Grey Zone" is as good an answer as we're going to get. At first the American accents are distracting-- but the reality of everything else seeps in. The film isn't always explicit in its meaning, it doesn't shove everything in your face.

A truck passes by in the background, and you realise it's carrying the ashes of the incinerated. You see a couple of hundred people forming an  orderly line and it dawns on you that they're waiting for the gas chamber. They're facing their deaths - and they know it.


Holocaust films are important -- because they show in a very clear way  how evil humanity can be. You don't need the Nazi character to say cliche evil lines. Just standing outside a gas chamber will give you the message.

'The Grey Zone', at times, is repetitive and robotic. It's on purpose.  Men are pushing fellow men into the chambers. They're telling them it'll be okay but they know they're sending them to their deaths. And they shut that giant metal door and know that countless families are about to breathe their last breath. Later that day they're pushing them into incinerators and turning them into dust. This was their daily routine. Every day, for months. The Sonderkommando were Jews who worked in the gas chambers. They told fellow Jews they're going into the showers. An hour later they were carrying their dead bodies out, ready for the next group. They got a bit more bread to eat and got to live a few months longer than the others. The film explores what it is to be one of these men. 

But what the hell do you do? How do you survive Auschwitz? What morals and values really matter when you have a gun to your head?


I feel a bit sick knowing I'm just a blogger, 70 years later, talking about movies. What the hell is that? What does the Holocaust mean now? Genocide is still happening in the world and we're as blind as ever.


'The Grey Zone' is very moving and impactful, because it doesn't judge the characters. The SS do their jobs. The Sonderkommando do theirs. What happens happens. This isn't a film that paints a pretty picture or goes for poignant poetry. It's a film about the smoke that bellowed out of the chimneys. About grass getting watered meters from a deadly chamber.



This film helps you imagine what it was like. The nuts and bolts of the demolition of a race of people. It wasn't evil movie characters that did it. It was human beings.

Who were these people whose entire families got slaughtered? Who were the guys who worked the Sonderkommando? And who were the Auschwitz guards who shot people in the back of their heads without a moment of fear or remorse? We can romanticize the victims and demonize the killers, but where does that get us?


I am constantly unravelling the Holocaust and figuring out what it means to me. It seems more important than playing on my Xbox 360 somehow.

I think 'The Grey Zone' is a must-see. It's upsetting viewing, but it's just a movie. You get to live afterwards. I guess now it's the least we can do, continue to bear witness to the past.


Care to share?