Wednesday 31 October 2012

Let Me Take You By The Hand And Lead You Through The Streets Of London

I'm exhausted. Must have walked for about ten hours today. We did Buckingham Palace, we did Shakespeare's Globe, Hyde Park, Soho, I even showed her these little old houses behind Waterloo Station that are so OldLondon that you feel like you've time travelled.

You know what was great about today? That it wasn't about movies.

I'm not saying they never came up. She's a top director from New York, and I desperately wanted to hear all about her latest film. And when we were in the Tate Modern we had a lengthy conversation about my screenplays.

But today wasn't about that. It was about seeing London. I'd never been to the Tate before! I mean, I thought it sucked and most of what passes for art is ridiculous. But at least now I can say I did it!

It was good to be a tourist. Refreshing. I pass these streets every day but usually it's for a meeting or I'm making my way to the Curzon for a screening. It was good to actually look up at the buildings and see London in all its history.

And of course, being her first time in London - she expected me to be full of facts. I was -- but most of them were made up. The stuff I did know didn't really cut it. I pointed out a location from 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' when we passed the BFI on the Southbank, but it wasn't very interesting, because today really wasn't about movies.

Care to share?

Paid/Unpaid: Your Value in the Film Industry

This isn't an article about what rights you have, it's an article about the realities of the industry that most of us find ourselves in. You can quote rules and figures to me from unions and laws, but unfortunately; so few of us get to live within those luxuries. Sometimes we write/act/sing for free, sometimes we get paid huge amounts. At the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics, there were professional dancers who were fully paid, and thousands of 'volunteers' who worked for nothing. But who in their right mind would turn down the opportunity to be a part of such a unique event? Virtually no-one.

And that's what it comes down to in movies. Supply and demand. When a movie is being cast, there are often 1500 people applying for 5 roles. Unless you're indispensable as an actor, they can easily replace you for someone else.

What does it mean to be irreplaceable? A big part of it is business. If your name is on a poster, will it mean a big increase in ticket sales? If I put you in a YouTube video, will you bring in 50,000 views?

Johnny Depp gets twenty million dollars a movie because he guarantees profit at the box office. Robert De Niro gets two million because his name being attached to your project will guarantee pre-sales with a distributor; they can sell his movies before they're even made.

But you're not De Niro or Pacino, so what are you? You're an out of work actor.

It's like Jim Rohn used to say, your value goes up when you provide value to the market place. You can demand £100 a day to be in a student movie, but it's unlikely you're that valuable to them.

The successful actors build their careers over time. The harsh truth is, you're probably not as good as you think you are. You did twenty unpaid films then said, "I'm only doing paid work now"? Well maybe you should have done fifty projects, or a hundred.

It's a gradual thing. Longevity counts for a lot. It's like the way google ranks websites higher when they've been around longer. It's the same with actors, there's weight to longevity! All your favourite actors were at it for 15 years before they broke in at the levels we know them for. 

You get paid based on business, or uniqueness. Maybe you're not successful yet, but you have a unique voice as an artist. 
If you've been at it long enough, and you're unique enough, you'll probably be worth it. We'll cut down the food budget, we'll fire the DOP and hire you, because you're magic! If you think you're this already, when you're only just starting out, you're delusional!

As I said, this is not a post about rights. Or unions. I know my rights but still I've written screenplays for productions companies who have exploited my talents like crazy for very little money. But I'm not Charlie Kaufmann, it's the reality of the business. You take what you can get, otherwise you're unemployed and irrelevant. 

Even at the top of the line. You've got Ron Howard losing his studio deal, you've got Kathleen Kennedy going two years without a greenlight before the Lucas/Disney deal, and yet Christopher Nolan gets to make the movies he wants.


Business and uniqueness. No-one can do what he can do. At the moment, he guarantees box office. And the movies are great.

Why is Woody Allen still making movies? Business. His reputation, plus that of the stars who beg to work for him for scale; they make the movies profitable. Maybe not in America, but after foreign sales and home video, he's a safe bet. W
oody doesn't get to make films because of his glasses, it's because he's unique and profitable. 

You can think about paid/unpaid as a thing about rights, and making a living. But if your goal is to make a living this year, go work in an office. Your goal, long term, is to be a unique artist who can demand a big fee based on what you bring to the table.

You're less helpless when you realise how empowering this can be. Have you PROVEN you can do the work? Have you shown you can be AMAZING?

Don't moan about how poor you are. Do something that shows a bit of talent. Make a 30 second movie. Write a book and give it away for free. And then do it all again to prove it isn't an accident.

Provide value to the market place.
Build an audience.
Build uniqueness.

Care to share?

Thursday 25 October 2012

The Old Video Store

Funny how things go.

I had a dream the other night that the old video store had re-opened. The place was packed and everyone was excited about movies. In dreams, everyone loves the movies; but in real life, people mostly just moan about them. I was genuinely disappointed when I woke up.

And two days passed.

Then the phone rang. It was my old boss from the video store. Hadn’t heard from him in maybe three years. Those years haven’t been kind to him. The video store was all he knew, it was his life. Now it’s gone, and so is his wife. And he has trouble getting access to his kids.

These things happen for a variety of reasons, but of course; he traces it back to the video store. Everything was great when he had that place.

He called me just to catch up. He was at home with his new girlfriend, who I also vaguely knew – and they were watching a movie, which reminded him and her of me. And that’s why I got the call a few days later.

Someone offered to reopen the store. It’s sitting there derelict, and with a bit of investment, it could get off the ground again.

And maybe that’s why he called me. I had no authority at the store. I was just the kid sitting there for below minimum wage, but we had a bit of a rental-renaissance when I was there. We bucked the trend. We got people renting movies again.

But it didn’t last. We built a new core of customers who loved movies. But it’s just like the cinema. There’s a hardcore who goes twice a week, but most people go once every six months.

A video store can’t survive with those numbers. Not anymore.

But he got a call last week – and this guy suggested he re-open. Said he’d put up the cash. Get the old horse back on the track.

So when my friend got in touch with me - he knew it wasn't the right thing to do, but there was some hope in his voice. Maybe things would be like they used to be.

But he’s not remembering the last few years. The day’s takings were rarely enough to buy a pizza come the end of the night. The distributors were keeping rental DVD prices sky high, yet feeding mass amounts of discs to the supermarkets far below retail prices. Sometimes he would buy discs retail, but rental stores get penalized for that. They were being squeezed out by the distributors. This is a typical capitalism story.

The DVD/video rental industry is no longer relevant.

Sounds a crazy thing to say. After all, 90% of Netflix USA’s income is still through their DVD service.

But it’s dying.

And the video store is all but dead.

I was the one who had to break it to him. I mean, he knew already, but he listens to me. I used to be the kid in the video store, but now I’m the guy on the inside looking out. It’s my job to know where distribution is going. And everyone is looking towards the internet. And those who aren’t, are living in denial.

I’m already feeling nostalgic for the days when you could walk to the end of your street and find people eager to discuss the latest movies. Remember those days? You’d pop in to pick up a movie and end up sticking around for three hours discussing the obscure movies by the corner, in the bottom row, that were faded by the sunlight and neglected by the customers.

Those days are gone. I had to tell him, “don’t re-open the store.” That business model is gone. Sure, it’d be packed out for the first week, but nobody wants DVD anymore. Nobody wants VHS. Nobody wants the video store. 

Care to share?

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Has Anybody Here Seen My Old Friend Niles?

Ross & Rachel, how are you doing? 

Joey and Pacey, are you still together? Pacey – are you and Dawson on good terms? I know it’s was tricky back then, but now you’re grown up – have you managed to truly patch up the friendship? 

Ally McBeal, it broke my heart a little that you never found love when you left our screens. How about now, did you meet anyone? Maybe Larry came back. Although, he should never have left you in the first place. Should you forgive him or not? You probably shouldn’t, but I really wish you would. How is John Cage? Can you tell him hello from me. 

How are you doing, Frasier? What has Niles been up to? I guess Marty must be getting old now. I hope he’s doing okay. I heard about Eddie, I’m sorry for your loss.

Do you think Jerry, George, Elaine & Kramer are still hanging out? I’d like to think they’re still meeting up for coffee—but has anyone seen or heard from them? 

Remember how young and hilarious Chandler and Joey were? Would love to visit them now they’re in their 40’s, I bet they’ve hardly grown up at all! A bit like their friend Ross, he seemed to get less sane and more crazy as the years went by. 

Oh how I miss you guys! 

Care to share?

Monday 22 October 2012

Essential Advice from 17 Inspirational Film Industry Professionals

"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." That's what Aaron Sorkin told me two years ago. You mean Academy Award Winner Aaron Sorkin is just like the rest of us? Totally. "Remember that nothing you write, no matter how good, is going to make everyone in the world like you."

Did you hear the story this summer about screenwriter Scott Rosenberg selling a pitch to Disney for a seven figure deal a few months ago? It was easy, right? After all, he's the guy who wrote 'Con Air' and 'Gone in Sixty Seconds'. But wait! What about all the work he did before that? "I wrote ten scripts before I got an agent. 14 before one was made. If I look back at those old scripts, sure there were some decent parts. But most of it was crap. How could it not be?" - You mean that Scott Rosenberg was once a struggling writer just like me and you? That's right. 

So what is Scott's advice? WRITE A GREAT SCRIPT! "When you think you have a great script - if it really is great - they will find you. The town is starving for great scripts. It sounds awful and pat and overly simplistic: but if you want to succeed as a screenwriter, write a dope script." 

So you have to write and write and write. And you have to deal with that inner criticism that Sorkin was talking about. Sound familiar, writers? It sounds familiar for all artists, right? What if you're an actor, is it the same? 

"It is very hard. I mean, you've got to have self-belief. And you do have to take risks. If you find yourself going 'oh that person would never see me' don't- don't eliminate yourself from the casting process. let them eliminate you. Send that email that doesn't get replied to. I think part of the battle for any creative person is um, not to reject themselves." That's what British comedian David Schneider says

Jeeez. Seems like most of working in the film industry is about stopping yourself from going crazy. Here's how actor William Duffy does it; "I NEVER dwell on the “W’s”: “Why didn’t they cast me?”, “What did I do wrong?”, “What were they looking for?”, “What did they think of me”, and of course, “Was I any good?” and “Will I ever work again?”."

So instead of focusing on those, what does William think you should do? "My advice is to realistically define “success”, and what “making a living as an actor” means to you. Why are you an actor?" - Oh, and you need to surround yourself with good people: "The important thing I try to do is have a good support system around me – comprised of both industry and non-industry people. It keeps me sane. I’m fortunate: My immediate family is fantastic. They always support me. Do they actually approve of my choice of profession ? … Don’t know. But they support my decision 100%. And that’s more important. Same with my non-industry friends: couldn’t be more proud of me and supportive. They love that I’m doing what I want to do. Can’t ask for anything better."

Having a good support system, that keeps coming up again and again. You need your own confidence, but you also need people around you, which is just like what 'Glee' editor Joe Leonard told me "Being self-motivated, and believing in yourself -- you can get far on those fumes. It's worth noting that actual encouragement (from teachers, friends, parents, film organizations, festivals) is still the actual fuel. Mom, dad, thank you! My list is actually quite endless."

And what about those negative people? Let's go back to William Duffy for a minute, because I love this viewpoint: "I don’t try to 'fend off the naysayers and negative people'. I just nod and accept them. Hell, they’re right! What I do IS crazy! But I love it."

So; you need to keep working and working on your craft. You need a support system. And you need to not let the inner-critic get to you. These same themes come up again and again in my interviews. I remember having a conversation about all this with 'Bring It On' screenwriter Jessica Bendinger; she said, "You need talent, but you still have to know what lights you up and what will get your butt in front of the computer whether there’s a paycheck involved or not. I do know the more I write, the easier it is to write. The less I write, the longer it can take to start the car. I mess up all the time, I fall into patterns and struggle to stay conscious, integrated and connected, but I've learned to relish the harder stuff for the clarity that follows."

You have to keep doing the work. And you need to keep sane. When you're not getting the work, see the good side. Here's Peter James Smith, who worked alongside William Duffy in 'The West Wing' for seven years, "It's funny. I don't think of how I deal with it. I just live my life in the every day and take what life does bring me--whether it's a heap of offers or a free day to go walking on the beach. It hasn't gotten easier. There is a certain level of acceptance... but there are also moments of panic when thinking about money or about making enough as a union actor to qualify for health benefits."

Is there some extra something that helps us be successful? Melanie Mayron has been acting for over forty years (older readers will remember her as a series regular on 'thirtysomething', and younger people may have caught the film she recently directed, 'Mean Girls 2':  " There are just so many very gifted people that come to Hollywood to try to realize their dreams, that the reality is it is luck, karma, destiny, whatever you believe.  But you do have to be motivated. And passionate about what you want to do and say."

Karma? Destiny? Are we getting a bit crazy now? But hold on; a lot of people have views like this. What, even Scott Rosenberg, you ask? "A Zen approach is a good one. Don't do a mass mailing introducing yourself to every agent in town. Don't foist your script on the guy at the next table in the diner, who happens to be reading "THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER". Just know that they will find you. It sounds strange. It's not. L.A. is a city fueled by the frantic frenzy to find the next great script. The key is write it. And then watch them tumble..."

A Zen approach? Karma? Interesting. So these actors work their asses off, constantly writing, acting, practising their craft-- and they work on themselves to make sure they don't get swallowed up by rejection and inner criticism.  

And sure, luck is involved. Even TV actor Joshua Malina admits, "there is a huge amount of luck involved. There just is. Subtract my relationship with Aaron Sorkin and I don't know whether I'd be a professional actor." -- But what else accounts for Malina's success? "One really important character trait is confidence. So many actors lack it, but if you don't think you're good, why would you expect someone else to be taken with you? You have to believe in your own talent, and let that belief carry you through the avalanche of rejection that comes with pursuing a career in this field."

Luck? Confidence? Knowing Aaron Sorkin? Who knows. Can you really go from being a nobody to achieving your dreams in the movie making industry?

Garden State. The Hangover. The Hangover 2. Paul. Due Date. The Dictator. You heard of any of those movies? All of them? Imagine wanting to be a Director of Photography, working on projects like those. Wouldn't that be amazing? How did Lawrence Sher do it? 

"The main advice I have for anybody is: I never had a back up plan, and I think that’s kind of the only advice I can give. I moved out to LA half-way through college. I got super into film and then because I always had an interest in stills photography I got really interested in camera work and I just decided I really want to do this for a living. I wanted to be a cinematographer. I had the benefit of knowing what specifically in the film industry I was interested in, which certainly helps and not everybody has that. Some people really need to figure out exactly what it is. I moved out to LA with no real contacts or anything, but I also didn’t have a plan to do anything else. I tried as best as I could to stay away from the Joe jobs. I still needed to make a living but I would do things still related to film as best as I could. That’s not to say I didn’t have one or two Joe jobs, but I read scripts that would allow me to earn a living and I obviously had the benefit that I could work as a camera assistant. But everything I did as a camera assistant, whenever I earned enough money to make rent I would go try and shoot stuff on my own. So I was really disciplined about not getting too stuck into working as an assistant. I was constantly trying to shoot. I think if you want to shoot then go shoot, that’s the best thing I could say, and find any way to make a living but continue to do it and everything you do will provide experience that will allow you to get jobs. It just takes time. The year that I made 'Kissing Jessica Stein' was one of the first years where I decided I would not do any more camera assisting even though that was basically how I was earning a living. What a miserable year, it was my only job all year and I think I made $7,000 on the whole movie. So, here I was, a 30 year old guy and I made $7,000 that year."

A 30 year old guy who only made $7,000 in a year? What a loser! What a failure! That Lawrence Sher is pathetic! Isn't that what you tell yourself when you're failing? But hold on-- isn't he now one of the best DOP's in Hollywood? 

Oh and did you know that Joe Leonard doesn't only edit 'Glee'? He also directs films."Pick up the camera, of if you're working that survival job, keep a notepad with you. Movies start within you -- unless you're using heavy machinery, let your mind wander. Look for the people you want to work with. It's easier to make a feature with a die-hard collective of ten filmmakers than it used to be. Support each other -- you can't do it on your own. And don't ask for permission... unless it involves fireworks."

Look for the people you want to work with. You don't just need a support system, you need to find talented and like-minded people to collaborate with! 

So how do you find people to collaborate with? Hollywood Editor Jake Pushinsky says, "Do whatever you can to get your foot in the door. Go to film schools (enrolled or not) and find student directors who need editors for their projects - anything. I imagine getting in to film school is great. You probably learn a ton and you also make endless connections to people that are heading in to the business. You just have to put yourself out there to anybody and everybody that you can. It's a really really hard business to get in to. I'm probably not the best example because I got lucky and sort of fell in to it."

But Jake IS the best example. He's a perfect example.  Everyone I've interviewed talks about luck. 

But is it luck? These are the hardest working people I know. Why does Shawn Clement have nearly 200 composer credits on IMDB?  "For me the work is 24/7. I'm a work-aholic. I do try to shut certain things off at night. Lately I've been doing that. As it gets to eleven o'clock, midnight, I'll chill and watch some TV or whatever; or spend some time with the dogs or horses and stuff. It's really hard, because you're always on. Even if I go to an event or a party, you're schmoozing looking for work. It's like a never ending job." 

So this luck that people keep talking about. How do you make it work for you? Take action. How did Scott Prendergast get 'FRIENDS' star Lisa Kudrow to be in his movie?. He asked. "We sent her the script - she read it - and she called me and said yes. It was kind of a crazy miracle. I really respect her for being so adventurous and doing this tiny movie."

Have patience. Martina Niland produced indie hit 'Once' -- but the process is long, "It can take 2-4 years at a minimum to get something ready enough to begin looking for production finance and if you have 20/25 features on a slate at any given time and in various stages of development etc, that’s a lot of balls to keep in the air. A lot of meetings to keep having week in, week out. But it’s fun."

2-4 years? A long time right? That's why you need passion. 

Who is the most passionate actor I know? John Wesley Shipp (Dawson's Creek, One Life To Live). He explains things pretty bluntly: "If you can be happy doing anything else, go do it;  the statistics are NOT in your favor. But if you have the fire in your belly, then you really have no other choice than to commit."

"People I know who are really successful are pretty much the hardest working people," says Greg Mottola (Director of Adventureland, Superbad, The Newsroom). "Like you, I do love personal movies and writer-directors. I do believe in auteurs, people telling their own stories or stories that are important to them. I can feel the difference. With this technology, there are going to be a lot of people who want to get into movies just because it's such a great job, an interesting job. And there'll be a lot of competent people. But to rise above and be the next Woody or something -- it's really hard."

It IS really hard. But the key is to get out there and WRITE A SCRIPT, MAKE A FILM, DO THE WORK! Scott Rosenberg says write ten scripts, write fifteen. Joe Leonard says make a film a day. Jake Pushinsky says go down to the nearest film school, even if you're not a student there, and meet people. 

Adam Rifkin wrote 'Mousehunt', and 'Small Soldiers'. He directed 'Detroit Rock City' and his new project, 'Reality Show' is due on TV soon. His advice is always great-- surely he knows the golden rule of being a success in this industry. "If you want to be a filmmaker, there's no set path, no rules. You make up your own rules as you go along. Everybody does it different, and everybody blazes their own path. One of the things I like about the people who succeed in the movie business, or anybody pursuing a career in the arts of any kind, is that they just innately know that their way is the right way, for them. It might not be the right way for someone else, but it's the right way for them. And if it isn't working one way, you can shift gears and try it another way. The people who succeed at it are the people who know, 'yeah this is the way for me, this is the way I'm going to pursue this career for myself, and to hell with everyone else and the way they did it, I'm going to do it my way.'"

Care to share?

Thursday 18 October 2012

Ramblings About My Brain, Creativity and Inner-Critics

How's it going?

I'm tired. It's the good kind of tired, where you feel like you deserve sleep come the end of the day. And recently, I've been sleeping okay. It's mostly because of music; I set myself a playlist, which helps me drift off into random thoughts; which in turn sends me to sleep.

I've been much better with the crazy-brain stuff recently. I've found ways to shut off, to relax, to play an xBox game without feeling guilty. I recommend it. Sure, I still feel the pressure to write a masterful screenplay anytime in the next nine minutes, but I've got better at saying, "hey, it doesn't actually have to be tonight."

The pressure in your own brain can be such a creativity killer. I think that when I put pressure on myself, it makes me PRODUCTIVE, but it doesn't make me CREATIVE.


I don't know how or when you're the most creative, but for me, it's when I'm relaxed. Those rare moments where I actually allow myself to notice that the sun is shining, or when I engage in a conversation to the point where I forget I need to check my Twitter account. In those rare moments, I can find the silliness and interestingness in all the things around me. Like when I saw Paranormal Activity 4 yesterday; I spent the whole time laughing to myself because I had a new film idea circling in my mind. It happens when I let myself off the hook.

But the obsessive pressure soon comes back, and it needs to; because it helps me get projects finished. A lot of people have ideas -- plenty of them -- but the days turn into months and into years and into coffins because they just don't have the energy or willpower to do anything. And sure, there are often legitimate excuses; but even so; you can always do your creative work after the lights are out, or in your lunch break, or when the prison guard is napping. I think in many ways, I am lucky and privileged to have an inner-nutcase who keeps me productive, because many people don't have it. They sleep better, but they complete less projects.

What is creativity? Who knows, there are so many definitions. For me personally,  it's a feeling, a moment; when my sensibilities are shaken or inspired by something I've seen or experienced, or something I am feeling inside of me. When my curiosity is sparked --- and what that leads to, is a new insight, a new way of looking at something. And then the hope is that my talent and skill; which gets sharper each time it's used; is able to pick up on the insight and turn it into something artistic that resonates with the reader/audience.

My inner-critic just said to me, sarcastically, "great job trying to explain creativity in one paragraph on a film blog!"

What is the point of the inner-critic? He's a fascinating fellow, don't you think? I wrote a post a few days ago about 10 People To Avoid In Creative Industries. But honestly; all those people that you'll meet externally, also exist inside of yourself. Your inner-critic can be ruthless! Egotism is an inner-critic under threat, and The Drama Queen is an inner-critic needing attention. At its worst; the inner-critic makes you a perfectionist who is never happy---- at its best, you can teach your critic to be more nurturing, to speak in more useful and less harsh tones. It's not easy to be kind to yourself, but it'll make you a better artist. 

An article was published a few days ago about how Creativity Is A Mental Illness. I call bullshit. A mental illness is a mental illness, creativity is creativity. And sure, creatives have, for centuries, driven themselves crazy because of the ideas and disturbances in their heads--- but so have people who photocopy paper for a living. To think of the artist's calling as special or anymore important than anyone elses is, to me, a thought of pure egotism. And I argue with other artists about this all the time. Usually actors; I'm not sure why, but they often think they're doing Gods work. I think they're just acting. 

And I'm just writing. And you're just reading. Nothing I do or an actor does is more important than the small but great things anybody is capable of doing on any given day. To quote Woody Allen, "Whatever works."

Care to share?

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Abnormal PARANORMAL ACTIVITY Experiences

I never actually mean to watch the 'Paranormal Activity' movies. In fact; I completely avoided seeing the second one. The third one I saw, last year, when I was in Barcelona with absolutely nothing to do.

Of course, there's always something to do in Barcelona. But, I was alone -- and there's only so much walking around I can do. I came across a cinema just down by where the boats hang out and I thought "movies, yes!" People often say to me, "how can you go to another country and waste your time in a cinema?" But for me, that's one of the big joys of other countries, experiencing their cinemas.

I saw 'Paranormal Activity 3' entirely in Spanish. I enjoyed it. The Spanish people in the audience found it scary, and I did too-- but for different reasons, and crucially, at different moments. The Spaniards had the luxury of understanding the dialogue, so they at least got some kind of hints that danger was lurking. I only had the music and images to lead me.

That should be enough, you'd think. But to be fair to the 'Paranormal Activity' movies, they're great at delaying the scare, hiding it away; keeping it until the one tiny millisecond when you let your guard down.

The reason the third movie made me jump, was because I had absolutely no idea what was going on.

I didn't really know what was going on today, either; as I watched 'Paranormal Activity 4' in London (and in English). It's fair to say that this is the weakest of the franchise so far. Okay, it's not fair to say that at all considering I never saw the second one. And to be honest, I think absolutely no-one knew there was a second one. I swear, hundreds of people have said to me, "Paranormal Activity 3? When was there a 2?"

Okay, it wasn't hundreds of people that said that to me, so I shouldn't swear by it. Maybe it was three people.

I finished a meeting early today, and found myself in town with nothing to do for a few hours. I was going to see 'Looper', or check out 'The Perks of Being A Wallflower' again, but the timings didn't work out, so I opted for PA4.

There were 10 people in the cinema. All of them were about 48, male, and bald. Apart from me. I am not 48 and I am not bald. At least not for the moment. But why were they all there? A few of them had notepads, so I was assuming they were journalists; but hasn't this movie been reviewed already? Maybe it was just a bald people outing, a day trip. But then, they didn't seem to know each other, so maybe not.

I was in hysterics throughout the film. Not because it was awful -- although, it kind of was-- but I was laughing madly because I was in the process of vividly coming up with a hilarious screenplay idea. I could barely pay attention to the movie because my brain was flying off into creative madness.

When I left the cinema, I completely forgot my screenplay idea. It probably wasn't very good. I should have written it down. Maybe that's why all the bald people had notepads. If I was 48 and bald; would I currently have a brand new genius screenplay idea in my hands?

I saw the first Paranormal Activity on 31st October 2009. I remember it very specifically, because it was Halloween and I was alone in New York City. Everyone I knew had plans, and I didn't know what the hell I was doing. It was my first Halloween in America; and I was in awe of it. Families filled the streets; everyone joyous, passing candy to each other, laughing and joking--- it was perfect, wonderful. Except that, I had no place to go and nothing to do.

I ended up in Chelsea, because I wanted to check out the Chelsea Hotel. It's a thing I do when I'm lonely; I feel a gravitational pull towards my idols, towards the ghosts that don't quite exist in the way you want them to. I was thinking of all the great writers and artists who'd stayed at the Chelsea Hotel. It was famous for it.

It was a let down, of course. I saw the hotel, but then what? I still had nothing to do. Everyone around me was full of life and happiness, and I was full of loneliness.

I headed further down West 23rd Street, and came across the Chelsea Clearview Cinema. And they were showing 'Paranormal Activity'. I had no place to go on Halloween, so I figured my destiny was to see this movie.

And I loved it! The screening was packed, and the audience was ALIVE! It made me realise why hype works in America. In the UK; when movies are hyped; we look at them and say, "uh, that was shit?" - but in America, people turn bad movies into great movies out of pure enthusiasm. A packed screening can make a movie great just through its energy and commitment to having a good time.

And the sold out screening of 'Paranormal Activity' managed, at least for 90 minutes, to make me forget how alone I was.

I kind of weirdly and quietly look forward to 'Paranormal Activity 5', because I don't know where I'll be -- but I'll probably end up seeing it, and I'll probably be alone.

Care to share?

Charlie Chaplin's THE KID (1921)

For me, Charlie Chaplin's 'THE KID' is one of the very first truly watchable films. I know-I know, there were great films before it, BUT --- 'The Kid' is the one that I would show to anybody, knowing that, with a bit of concentration and attention -- they could have a hugely enjoyable time.

52 minutes of joy, hilarity, and heartbreak. Chaplin could tell more of a story in one image than most filmmakers can tell today in five sequels.

I love its simplicity. And I see the film's influence in nearly everything that has come since. Remember that scene in 'Annie Hall' with the lobsters? Or the scene in 'Kramer Vs Kramer' when Dustin and the kid are cooking French Toast? Those scenes are Grandchildren of the scenes in Chaplin's film. At the beginning, The Tramp is struggling to look after the little boy--- making his food, keeping him fed. Then twenty minutes later in the movie; the boy is making pancakes as The Tramp sits in bed -- it's a wonderful role reversal, and it tells us so much about the characters.

The connection between Charlie's 'The Tramp' and the kid; has anything in cinema ever been more beautifully life-affirming?

The film was such a personal one for Chaplin. Set in the Poverty-filled world he grew up in, it's a film about the human spirit; about the people that shape us as children. The film is about the same thing all of Chaplin's films were about, love. But this film wasn't about him chasing a pretty girl; it was about being a Father. Being responsible for someone else.

The sadness of when the kid gets taken away by the social services, is still one of the most emotional moments in the history of cinema. When the boy is on the back of the vehicle, screaming out for Charlie -- it's still painful to watch.

But let's not forget, this is one of the funniest films ever! It's approaching a hundred years old, yet still it's one of the most innovative films I've ever seen. And I mean that based on watching it again now. The jokes are still fresh! Chaplin's work was so ahead of its time, so unique, and so perfectly crafted that it's utterly inimitable. Like when he keeps dumping the baby but the police repeatedly show up, or how he turns his bed sheets into clothing, or when he's hiding the kid from the guard at the shelter --- genius.

This film is so poignant.

If you haven't seen it already, please do. I'm not one to demand everyone go and watch every classic film ever made. As important as 'Citizen Kane' might be, for so many, it's a snorefest. But 'The Kid' is, I genuinely believe, one of the most watchable and entertaining films of all time. And you can see the whole movie now on YouTube. It's only 52 minutes.

Charlie Chaplin is, above everyone else in the history of cinema; my absolute hero.

You can watch the whole movie below:

Today I am running a blogathon; where I have asked numerous bloggers to share their thoughts on 'The Kid'. I will be sharing their posts throughout the day on the Facebook Page and on Twitter

Care to share?

Tuesday 16 October 2012

10 People To Avoid In Creative Industries

If you want to succeed, if you want to be happy, if you want to get work done, then you need to ditch these people. The seeds of creativity are just that, seeds. If you're in the wrong environment, with the wrong people, they'll never blossom. These are ten people who will do their utmost best to kill your spark.

1. The Drama Queen. 

Everything is a huge drama! They had to wait fifty minutes for an audition, so will spend four hours that night telling you about it. And moaning about how hard done by the are. And they'll build big and elaborate stories around the dullest of things.

2. The Delusional. 

They were at a networking party and met a guy called Bob who said he was a producer. And he said, "I think you have a quality." So, your friend calls you up all excited because he/she thinks he/she has a 'quality', and will now be getting Oscars. And they ramble on and ramble on. And the delusionals; they keep trying to skip the hard work. Keep trying to bypass the struggle. They think they have a golden ticket.

3. The Stressy. 

At the beginning of a day on set; maybe their hair looked weird. Or maybe someone gave them the wrong kind of sandwich. And they turn it into a big bag of stress. And they don't get over it. And they think the wrong kind of sandwich has caused a catastrophic nightmare, of which your project may never get over.

4. The Jealous.

At some point, you're gonna say, "they hired me". And you need to be around people who can support it. If you hang around jealous types, you may never get the "they hired me" call, because The Jealous are too busy chopping you down when opportunities arise.

5. The Perfectionists.

You may think perfectionists are a good thing. You may see yourself as one. But a perfectionist, more often than not, is someone with a huge inner critic. And the critic never lets them complete a project, never thinks it's good enough. And The Perfectionist will meddle in your work -- keep nibbling away until you're smacked down on the canvas and unable to stand up. They think the problem is you -- but never look deeply inside themselves. You have to get away from these people because they will hold you down for years.

6. The Egotistical. 

You went to a party last night with Kevin Spacey, and Harvey Weinstein invited you onto his yacht, really? Wow. And you don't have the decency to acknowledge the production assistant who just brought you coffee? Yeah; we don't want you on this film set anymore.

7. The Lazy.

They're so good at pretending they're not lazy. But laziness is a real killer. And it's contagious. Don't be lazy about getting rid of lazy people, do it at once!

8. The Needy. 

Should I do it? Should I not do it? Would you do it for me? Do you think they might do it? Do you think if you asked them they'd do it for me? Have you done it yet? Will they like me? Do you like me? Why am I not in your film? Do you want me to come over? Why don't you want me to come over? Why were you acting all funny when I came over? I'm over it, okay? I'm taking a break from talking to you, okay? Do you love me? Does nobody love me? Does love exist? Can I have a hug? If you ask them to give me a hug will they give it to me? Have you cast it yet? When you cast it will you tell me?

9. The Negative. 

They think it can't be done. They think there's no point in finishing. No point in starting. They think it'll suck anyway. They think it would be better if it was done another way, another time. Frankly, they don't think you know what you're doing; and rather than support you to do it right, or to humbly admit they don't know what they're doing either; they'll just judge you and be certain that you can't do it and shouldn't do it.

10. The User. 

Has no idea how much work you put in. Doesn't appreciate what you did, and has no awareness of how much it took out of you. But as long as they're on their way, right?

Care to share?

Monday 15 October 2012

Miley Cyrus - What Have They Done To My Song, Ma?

Are Miley's nipples showing? Is she not wearing a bra? Has she had surgery? Is she marrying that guy? Has she dumped that guy? Is she going out for groceries? Or jogging? Did she tweet? Is she not tweeting? Has she cut her hair? Has she grown it again? Has she lost her mind?

Or maybe we could focus on her talent. Because, believe it or not, Miley Cyrus can sing.

Once upon a time, I was ten. My parents would be sitting on the sofa, watching TV. I was in the corner, with the big giant headphones on; listening to my parents records. I would listen to EVERYTHING. I got to know every inch of every song.

Mum and Dad had this 4 disc CD set (in fact, they still have it), called 'Sounds of the 70's'. Disc one, track ten, was Melanie - What Have They Done To My Song, Ma?

I'm pretty sure my parents never really liked the song.

But I would always put it on mix tapes, force it on everyone. It was so simple -- a woman sitting there saying, 'what have they done to my song? It's the only thing I could do half right, and it's turning out all wrong, Ma'. Maybe this was the first time it crossed my mind that people interfere with music, that a lot stands in the way of an artist putting out their work. Maybe that song is at least partly responsible for me being obsessed with auteurs, artists and independent film. Or maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.

Anyway, I've not heard the song in years. And then I came across the Miley Cyrus version. When Miley covers a great song, I listen. Although we live in different worlds, and have, I would imagine, very little in common, it wouldn't surprise me if she was also a kid with the headphones on, listening to her parent's records. After all, her Dad is Billy Ray Cyrus.

I remember hearing her cover of 'Every Rose Has It's Thorn' a few years back. And felt the same thing then, she NAILED IT. 'Every Rose...' was another of those songs that I spent countless nights listening to. That wasn't my parents doing -- by the time I was listening to Poison, I was on my own music-journey, and 'Every Rose Has It's Thorn' was one of the big players when I was a teenager.

Miley Cyrus doesn't get to be just Miley Cyrus. She has to go to the circus. Weird men follow her every move, snapping pictures. Every time she has an outburst on Twitter or shows an inch too much of her legs at a concert, it's headline news. It's not hard to see why so many stars go insane.

Luckily, when you hear her sing the way she does, you realise that her feet are still on the ground. Have you heard her beautiful version of 'You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go'? Her voice soars -- an amazing country music inflection; it's close to magic.

I love cover versions when they're done well. For Miley Cyrus to pluck 'What Have They Done To My Song, Ma?' out of nowhere, it must mean something to her. I can't stop watching and listening to this performance -- she's so into it. Isn't it the greatest thing when you witness someone truly loving a song? Especially when they're the one performing it. Wonderful.

For the briefest moment, when listening to this song. You remember she's just a young girl -- making her way in the world. And what is she? She's a singer. A singer who wants to sing.

"Look what they've done to my song, Ma. 
Look what they've done to my song.
It's the only thing I could do half right,
And it's turning out all wrong, Ma."

Care to share?

Sunday 14 October 2012

Thoughts on Recent Cinema Releases

'Untouchable' is the best film I've seen this year.

And how great is Emma Watson in 'The Perks Of Being A Wallflower'? It's one of those films that you think is going to be just another teen high school movie, but it ends up being so much more. 

'Liberal Arts' is immensely watchable. Probably because Richard Jenkins is in it. Does that guy ever do bad work? 'Killing Them Softly' is probably his least interesting role in ages, but Brad Pitt? He OWNED that movie. 
And it's great seeing Scoot McNairy getting such interesting roles. Look at how far he's come since 'In Search of a Midnight Kiss'. 

'The Perks of being a Wallflower' really sticks with you. For the most part, it's only pretty good, but the ending is masterful. How to describe the movie? I think if you mash together 'Starter For Ten', 'Adventureland' and 'High Fidelity', you'd get an idea of what this movie is.

It has great insight. That's what separates the great movies from the average. 'Ruby Sparks' is a fun concept, but that's all it is, a concept. There are some laughs, purely because of the situation (a writer's invention comes to life), but nothing resonates with you.

Yet every moment of 'Untouchable' rings true. The great thing about French films is that they're really films -- they tell a story that's dictated by the story; and not by the genre or by some toy that the film studio wants to sell. 'Untouchable' is hilarious, it's uplifting and it's liberating, but it's also painful and upsetting. You'll love it from the opening sequence.

'Killing Them Softly' was a good movie, some great moments-- but it was so obvious about its intentions. Nearly every scene had a TV in the background with an Obama or Bush speech talking about messed up the economy is. That was how the director pushed his theme on us. But 'Untouchable'? It just told the story. One character was rich, white and disabled, the other black and poor--- yet it didn't spell it out. It went for a more subtle approach. It's great when a movie doesn't treat its audience like a four year old.

'Liberal Arts' was a great watch. Nothing out of the ordinary, it's just one of those 'Garden State' movies; a few white people fall in and out of love with a cool soundtrack over the top. But it had the needed ingredient: insight. The film is immensely inviting. You don't want it to end because you're having such a blast hanging out with Josh Radnor, Elizabeth Olsen and Zac Efron.

Zac Efron is hilarious in this movie. 

And we need to talk more about Emma Watson. It's not easy to be a great actor after being known for such a huge franchise. And honestly, she proved me wrong-- she's got talent. I saw 'My Week With Marilyn' and thought she would be forever reduced to bit parts, but now I want to see her in everything.

But I want to see her do interesting stuff, the indie films. Don't just put her in a Twilight reboot.

As for 'Ruby Sparks', the trailer is enough. A funny concept, ha ha, but spend your hard earned cash watching something else.

But I must say I've become a big fan of Chris Messina. Funny how opinions change. I used to find his performances lacklustre, but now I enjoy everything he's in. He's worked with Nora Ephron, worked with Woody Allen, and did you see 'The Giant Mechanical Man'? A must-watch film for anyone who is a romantic but close to losing heart. 

My favourite moment in 'To Rome with Love' is when we first see Woody's character. Allen hasn't been on the screen since 2006's 'Scoop'. But no-one saw that, so you could say he has hardly been on screen since the turn of the millennium.

But his intro in this movie--- we hear him talking, moaning about the flight (he's on a plane), but we don't yet see him. The camera gentle rolls past each row until, finally, it reveals little Woody Allen--- it's like the reveal of a superhero. But instead of Spiderman...

..We get Woody Allen. And I loved it! He's hilarious in this movie, but perhaps only if you're a fan. The dialogue is so throwaway that half the audience don't know he's joking --- while the other half laugh more than they have in years.

Is Woody's recent output as good as the glory years? No, but there's still gold in there. Woody is like an old relative that everyone in the family loves--- he's not as lively as he once was but you still cherish him. 

I guess I should see 'Taken 2' and 'Paranormal Activity 4', but why? We already know what happens. What I love about movies is that a whole new world gets invented. But sequels are just made to sell some tickets. Liam Neeson kicks some ass again -- do I really need to give up two hours to witness it?

I can't bring myself to see 'On The Road'. I love the book too much. Usually I'd give it a go, but not this one --- the version of 'On The Road' that I read, which lives in my heart, is too precious to me to be influenced by a movie version. Don't get me wrong, I'm massively tempted! I just can't do it.

Care to share?

Wednesday 10 October 2012

It's Only In My Head

I'm free associating. Getting the junk out. What junk? So much junk. Maybe by writing I'll find clarity. That happens sometimes, right? Actually, it's happened to me many times. But it's also happened that I've written heaps and heaps and then nothing, nada, no good.

The thing for a writer is that you're convinced you must create anew because everything that came before sucked.

And this was meant to be free association, but now I'm rambling about writing.

What else do you want me to talk about? The imaginary you, that I picture reading this, would say, "anything but writing; go have an insight about elephants, or the moon, or triangles, you can't keep writing about writing you big fraud."

Not that a writer can ever be a fraud. If I write something and you read it, I'm a writer. But with so much dedication to writing, your brain becomes conditioned to focus on writing.

And reading about writing.
And writing about reading.
And reading about reading.
And writing about writing.

It needs life in it.


So do I just go chasing after some girl I hardly know because that's where the life is at? How do I make it about the life, and not the writing? And is there any difference? Sometimes I wish I was a beat poet from the 50's; out there on the streets just taking in all that happened under the big dark night and turning out pages with fervour.

Writing gets prioritised above everything else. But that's the Catch 22; you can't have good writing without life, and you can't have a good life when you're constantly writing. 

It takes so long to get great, you need to be practising every chance you get. Everyone is outside looking up at the buildings and you're inside, never leaving them.

But sometimes you feel you're getting dead inside. You feel like you've written out every part of you a thousand times over.

But we evolve and change and grow and rust; there's always something new to dig in to.

But how soon do you dig? Do you dig the moment you feel it, or do you let it grow? Wouldn't it be great to have an experience and not write about it until 50 years have gone by? Unfortunately, the moment I feel some thing of novelty or uniqueness, I throw it down on the page --- a script, a story, a tweet, a blog!

Sometimes I dream of living just to live, without the writing. And I realise how narcissistic this sounds to non-writers. But I am how I am and what can I do about it?

Maybe take writing less seriously.

Most of the time I do. The majority of my writing is silliness and jokes.

Ignore what I just said, because comedy is the thing I take the most serious of all. Getting comedy right is so difficult and such a craft. When I or anyone else nails it, it's amazing. That's why most of the time when you read a funny story or go see a comedy at the cinema, you don't laugh -- because it's so hard to do properly.

My brain says "you must write" and "you must stop writing" at exactly the same time. It makes me reach for the distractions, the addictions; thank God my addictions are caffeine and the internet. They're the most lovely and acceptable ways to rot your brain.

I will write a masterpiece, one of these days. Either that or I'll never write anything of interest to anyone.

Ain't that what sits in every writer's head at the back of everything?

Care to share?

Tuesday 9 October 2012

30 Tips to Help You Make Your First Zero-Budget Short Film

1. Don't say it's unpaid. Say it's a collaboration. And don't just say it, mean it. You're collaborating together to create a piece of art out of whatever means you have.

2. Think of every single place you know that you have access to that could be a location. Think about this before the script stage. Your cousin is an office manager? Your Uncle owns a taxi? Your ex-girlfriend's new boyfriend lives in a mansion? Utilise these locations in your script/film.

3. Find creative people who will get something out of your project. Your friend is an artist? Ask if she wants to design DVD covers. Your Brother wants to be a singer? Get him to sing a song about the movie and post it on YouTube to promote the project. 

4. Related to the point above -- don't do it all yourself. Part of doing a zero-budget film is that you do need to do a lot of it yourself; but delegate! Find other creative people who want to get involved. 

5. Be confident. It's your piece of art. It doesn't have to be a masterpiece, and you don't need to be intimidated by anyone -- this is your chance to create something personal.

6. Create something personal. Write from the heart

7. Write to your budget. No explosions, no car chases, no burning down buildings. 

8. If you know people who can stage explosions, car chases and buildings burning down, then by all means use them if it'll help your story (but don't break any laws and don't kill any people, not even actors).

9. Don't be afraid of actors just because it's your first movie. They need the roles, otherwise they wouldn't do it! And most of them -- some of them -- are very friendly people. 

10. Cast interesting and intriguing actors. There's only so much time in a short film to tell a story; so tell some of the story through the interesting faces you present on screen. 

11. Don't hire heaps of lights and things with cables and buttons that you don't understand. Focus on telling a story. 

12. Shoot without permission. Tell people you're students, tell people you're just taking a picture, tell people you're not filming-just-pretending-to. Or my old favourite, you say, "We are thinking about doing a film so we're just coming here to test out the light and see if it's workable". 

For some reason, people will stop you from filming but they won't stop you from filming-to-see-if-it's-the-right-place-to-film. This really works!

13. Don't spend all day getting every single angle conceivable. Think about the story you're telling -- storyboard if it helps you --- think about shooting scenes creatively in ways that support your vision, rather than covering absolutely everything ten times over. 

14. Get a few takes and then move on. 

15. Start early. Don't feel bad about it. Everyone wants to make a movie so get them up early and crack on. 

16. If on day two, your actor has quit -- don't keep ringing them up, demanding they return. At the level you're at --- justified or not-- actors will go for paid work instead, or they'll think you're amateur, or they'll be lazy and stay home. Y'know what? It's happened to everyone, find a way to keep telling your story. 

17. It's not just actors. It could be anyone. If it's YOUR MOVIE, it's going to mean more to you than the others -- so you gotta do whatever you gotta do to make it happen. 

18. If someone is working exceptionally hard to help you with YOUR VISION; then treat them to something. A chocolate bar. A bunch of flowers. A new house. Whatever you can afford. These people are extremely rare. 

19. Find lovely people to work with. 

20. Don't get stressed. 

Okay, you will get stressed. But don't drag it on for hours. 

Maybe the sound guy was late. Maybe the camera is broken. Maybe the building exploded at the wrong moment. 

But what are you going to do? Moaning and stressing doesn't bring a solution. You need to focus on finding solutions to problems as they arise. 

Sometimes we get caught up in rehashing the same old problems. Telling each person, one-by-one, oh how badly we were let down by someone or something -- but it solves nothing! Be a pro. Move on. 

21. Don't have friends on set just to have friends on set. They'll get in the way. 

22. If you have friends helping you out on the crew --- then you need to be very careful about which friends you choose. 

Explain to them exactly what they'll be doing, and let them know precisely how boring it will be. Everyone loves the idea of working on a movie, but after three days in which they've done nothing but hold a boom pole, they get bored. And then that darn pole keeps dipping into the shot.

You need people who are committed. 

23. If you have scenes where characters are eating food -- build your lunch breaks around it, so that the actors are working and eating. It saves time and money. Don't tell the actors you're doing this, they'll get grumpy. 

24. Feed everyone well -- but keep it cheap. Try make it hot if you can. Everyone likes Pasta. 

25. Do not fall in love with cast members or crew members, because if they fall in love with someone else during the production, your whole brain goes funny and your feet keep forgetting where the floor is. 

This is not a good state of mind for a director. 

26. Give praise! These people are giving their time for nothing; working as hard as they can -- and they're just as insecure as you are. Giving them specific and honest praise will help them, and the set will become rather pleasant and productive-- which is what you want, right? 

27. Ignore the temptation to say, "Well we're not far behind --- how about if we wrap now and pick up the rest when we finish tomorrow?"

That's a bad idea. Do it now. Ignore the tiredness. 

28. Ignore the tiredness -- you're making a movie! Have some caffeine and go go go make it happen --- yawn when no-one is looking--- then go go go again. 

29. Tell people every four minutes that the lights are hot; because they keep forgetting and keep burning their hands. We don't know why they do that but they do. 

30. Enjoy it. You're MAKING A FILM!!!!

Care to share?