Wednesday 28 November 2012

Facebook Is NOT Democratic

1. I have spent years building up my Kid In The Front Row Facebook Fan Page. It has over a thousand followers.

The idea behind it: if you like my blog, you join the page. When I post an article on there, you see it.

Turns out that, on average, only 75 of the 1,135 fans see each update. And those tend to be people who have 'liked' and commented on recent posts. Everyone else is frozen out.

To reach them, I have to pay for 'sponsored posts'.

Facebook is free? Don't be ridiculous. 

You can pay for Facebook ads to bring in New 'fans'. But if you do that, you have to pay to promote posts for them to actually see them.

2. I just updated the Facebook app on my smartphone. Used to have it so I wouldn't get notifications on my phone every time I get a message. Since updating, I have them again. 

It's down to me to opt out. Again. 

You make your choices, decide on the options, but each step of the way they change your decisions to suit them.

3. The idea of the Facebook news feed is that you see your friend's updates in chronological order.

Turns out that's not true. Facebook's algorithms decide who you'll see.

And sure, Facebook claims it knows you and what you like, so it's trying to help you - that's how they see it.

You've collected your friends in one online community, and now this company, Facebook, is picking and choosing what you see, based on algorithms they don't share.

4. Hiding information. Being selective. This is what the old media did. 

With the internet, we were finally meant to be free. To share information as we please, with whomever we want.

But Facebook filters information. It makes decisions on our behalf. It's like law enforcement, or government. We feel we're free, but they take that freedom away from us. You can say it's not a big deal --- but if you're following me on Facebook, you're not even seeing my posts! Shouldn't YOU get to decide that? 

Care to share?

OVEREXPOSED and DISINTERESTED: The Fight For Attention In The Modern Era

You used to go searching for that rare record. You'd line up for hours. You'd travel home desperate to hear the magic on Vinyl. Or CD. 

Even when mp3s first came about, do you remember? It took an hour to download one song. When it finally arrived, you were in heaven.

Now we stream movies. We watch box-sets hour after hour. We carry 10,000 books in our pockets. We read the newspaper while jogging.

Hearing your favourite song used to be a privilege. Now you're so bored 18 seconds in that you skip ahead, eager to find something better.

But how often do you find that magic?

Hardly ever. The magic is gone, we have too much access. 

We get false highs all the time. A quirky band comes along, and we're momentarily quenched. Or the marketing guys tell us the new Bond and Batman are the greatest films ever -- we believe them, momentarily, until we remember what a perfect movie really is.

A perfect movie is what we knew back when we were kids in the front row.

But that was long ago. Truth is, 'Casablanca' isn't as good as it once was, because our neurons are wired to think about tweets and emails while we're watching. And we have to glance at the phone, just in case there's a text.

If you can sit down and truly sink into a book, I applaud you -- you're one of an extremely rare group of people.

We have too much. So much that, nearly all of it bores us.

We pretend we're paying attention, but it's just not possible for the modern digestive system. We're stuffed. Over-fed.

We think this is evolution, but it's not. The devices, programs and apps are things that were invented and marketed at us, regardless of whether they're good for us. The human brain cannot multi-task in an efficient way. This has been proved time and time again by neuroscience. 

So we find a battle going on; there's a montage happening in the movie? Maybe I'll check my email. The song's boring? Maybe the next one suits my energy. The YouTube video lasts another 30 seconds? Maybe I'll read that article about Israel at the same time. 

We're kidding ourselves, and we're losing the battle. We're losing our passions. We can pretend we're paying attention, or we can say we're different and that all this technology helps us --- but we're rewiring our brains to suit the app-sellers and device marketers. In the process, we're losing our love of the things we hold dearest. 

Care to share?

Monday 12 November 2012

Interview with Film Producer LISA RUDIN

It's not that making a film for $25,000 is impossible, many have done it. But how many of them are good? LISA RUDIN managed the small miracle of producing a feature film on a tiny budget that was actually GREAT. You can read my review here, or you can talk to the many hundreds of people at film festivals who have been lucky enough to get to see it. 

When a great indie film is made for virtually no money, we have a tendency to to shine a light on the director. How did they do it with so few resources? The truth is, it's an impossible task. That's unless you have a great producer, which is precisely why I wanted to interview Lisa Rudin.

You made 'Missed Connections' for around $25,000, is that right? What was your budget after marketing, festival entries, and all that kind of thing?

'Missed Connections' was made for $25,000.  We raised nearly all the money through two Kickstarter campaigns. The first one supported our initial production costs and insurance.  The second one helped us finish with production and left money for post expenses.  Our marketing budget was less than 1K.  We had a company print posters and postcards which we designed with the help of a couple talented friends and developed a website on our own. 

The festival entries can get very expensive on the other hand.  We needed a few thousand dollars for entry fees, although some were waived.  Another hefty expense was the cost to travel to fests.  Not all of them cover travel costs and those that did were usually willing to cover travel for one person.  We are a four person filmmaking team (Eric Kissack - the director, Kenny Stevenson - the writer and lead, and Dorien Davies - the female lead) so we're all broke now, but it was worth it!

On a script level - what makes a good independent film? What makes you want to produce something?

Great question. Dorien and I were friends and she mentioned to me that her husband had written a script.  I read it and met with them.  I loved this script because it was so clever and funny.  I asked Kenny if his goal was to get managers or agents to read it and if he wanted my help in doing that.  He said no.  He wanted to make it himself.  I was just crazy enough to be convinced.  He explained that he wrote it with his friends in mind and from there we did a table read with all of them.  They were all so talented.  It was perfectly cast.  I introduced them to Eric and he felt the same.  I knew we had something special.  The actors were perfect for their parts and it really flowed.  Because of the nature of independent film, you need to have extra passion to make up for the lack of money.  This project had it and I could see it in this group.  It was an easy sell to get me on board.  

When producing - do you tend to be on set every day?

I do.  With indie films there seems to be a lot more room for little fires.  We had lots of days where unexpected issues popped up. This is the nature of shooting without permits and with no money.  You have to get very creative!  We had a day where the grip truck didn't show up.  We had a day where we were stopped by the police.  We lost power for a few hours one day.  You never know what can come up, and unfortunately you don't have money to throw at the problem.  Because of all this, I find it helpful for me to be on set.  Eric was directing and needed to focus on that aspect.  We are a good team and he trusts me.  I might not always alert him to a problem, but he can be sure that if there is one, its being handled.  

You've worked as an assistant to Larry Charles on some amazing projects -- what did you learn about comedy from him --- and from Larry David, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Bill Maher..?

I have been very lucky to work with such talented people.  A lot of the projects these guy do are improv heavy.  Over the years, I've been able to watch that process and have really enjoyed seeing actors work on projects that allow for flexibility with the script and characters.  I tend to be more interested in projects I come across that incorporate that element.  In production this can sometimes translate to scenarios that you didn't expect.  On some of the projects I've worked on with these guys, we had limited resources and a lot of changes to our schedule, location or set needs.  You have to think fast and be resourceful in these situations and I learned a lot from those experiences.  I drew on all these lessons while making this movie.  

The film is doing really well at the film festivals -- what has it been like travelling around with the film? It's like being on tour in a band, right?

Oh yes, just as wild and crazy...but probably not in the sex, drugs and rock n roll aspect.  It's been a great way to see the country (and London!) and to catch up with friends and family.  That has been a really special experience.  Nothing better than travelling with your film to new audiences and watching people laugh and enjoy it. 

Kenny Stevenson, Dorien Davies, Lisa Rudin

How do you find material you want to produce -- how does it get into your hands? 

Many ways.  Sometimes my friends ask me about a project.  Sometimes I meet people at festivals.  Sometimes it's through word of mouth.  Or, sometimes it's through past work contacts.  All ways are good.  I'm always looking for new projects.  

What's next for you? 

I am currently working on a couple shorts and the four of us are working on selling 'Missed Connections'.  We are also discussing a new project...  We shall see. 

The internet is playing a huge part in every stage of production. In what ways has the internet been important to you?

Without the internet, we couldn't have told Neal's story, we couldn't have raised money through Kickstarter and we wouldn't be able to bring the movie to YOU.  It's crucial.  I could go on about the internet for days.  I'm sort of a geek.  

What can you tell us about distribution? Is anything lined up? 

Yes!  We have deal in place with Film Festival Flix and will also be in places like itunes, Netflix and other VOD and cable platforms in early 2013.  

Care to share?

Friday 9 November 2012

I Am Not Watching Movies And I Am Okay With It

I go through spells of not watching any movies, and I kind of like it. If you're not careful - watching films becomes something done out of duty rather than passion - especially when you work in the industry, or write a film blog, or both. And there's just no fun in that. 

Truth be told, I haven't seen 'Argo', or 'Looper', or 'Skyfall', or 'Rust & Bone'. I'm behind. But so what? Right now I'm loving books, and news articles, and music. I've always had this pattern, it's a natural thing, where my interests dive into different areas for short periods of time. It's usually really intense. I won't read a book in a year, then I'll read nine in six days. That's how I am, and I like it that way. 

But I don't always allow myself to be like that. Because I have this identity, as the 'film guy'. I'm not sure if other people pushed it upon me, or if I claimed it for myself. Indeed, there's something cool about being the guy people turn to if they need an opinion or, dare I say, some expertise regarding films. 

But these ways in which we identify ourselves, they're not really real. It's just a tag we wear. And actually, it can be extremely limiting. 

When I was a kid, I used to love books about crime, and aliens, and monsters. But somewhere growing up, I told myself I don't like those stories. But you know what? I kind of really do, it's just buried deep inside of me. My tastes skewed towards classic Hollywood, modern indie films, and world cinema. And I really do love those things; but I also over-identify with them a little too much sometimes, as if it means something. As if it's who I am. 

I kind of blame the blog. It adds more pressure. It shouldn't do. A blog is just a blog. But again; you start to over-identify with what you're doing. See yourself as the indie film blogger guy. The one with the slightly off mainstream opinion on things. But what is that? It's just some made up self-perception that means very little. 

We are who we are and sometimes I just wanna sit in my room for six hours and watch 'Ally Mcbeal' episodes. I never let myself do that; because it seems wasteful, or girly, or something else; I can never put my finger on it. But actually, sometimes that's really what I want to do. A voice in me says "watch eight Billy Wilder movies then write an epic article about them," or "read ten screenplays, they'll help you with your scripts and then they'll help you come up with something really interesting for the blog...." -- but it's not a voice of passion, it's just this crazy nutbag inside of me who pushes me to keep to this identity; the film guy persona. 

But no, tonight I just want to watch a bunch of Ally Mcbeal episodes, and then read a good book. The movies will still be there a day, week or month from now. 

Care to share?

Tuesday 6 November 2012

SHORT STORY: In Search of Writer's Block

Abley was competent with words, some might even say talented. He'd experienced many things as a writer, but never writer's block.

He was of the belief that to be truly great, you have to suffer from the pain of writer's block. He constantly daydreamed about being blocked, and romanticised about it endlessly. "I don't want to have all these ideas," he said, to a passer by, called Merv, who didn't expect to be a part of this story.
"Excuse me?" asked Merv.
"I have too many ideas. It's all flowing," said Abley.
"What are you talking about?"
"I want to have writer's block. I'm desperate to be fresh out of ideas."
"Have you thought about moving to Hollywood?" said Merv.

Abley mumbled something offensive and sauntered off towards home. He arrived and turned on his laptop. Much to his dismay, he was full of creativity. He instantly wrote 2000 words, and that was just to respond to Liz on Facebook. Then he worked on his novel. Eight hours later, the novel was complete and he'd written outlines for four new stories.

Abley was meeting Greg and Nancy for coffee. They were both writers who didn't take him seriously due to his unusual productivity. Abley was desperate to be more like them, more like a real writer. He looked for patterns. Greg had a beard - and so did Nancy. Maybe this was the key to creative death.

"What are you working on at the moment?" asked Greg.
"Nothing," replied Abley, who convinced no-one, probably because he was scribbling down the seventh chapter while talking. Nancy was deeply concerned about him. Without the huge struggle, and years of creative bankruptcy, how could Abley ever expect to be taken seriously? 

Abley was desperate. He wrote six books on 'the hunt for writer's block', and they were all best-sellers. The depression was hitting hard. He stayed up nights, consumed with fear that he would never run out of ideas. How could he be more like his writing idols who had all suffered extreme bouts of creative nothingness?

Care to share?

Saturday 3 November 2012

The Lonely Cinema

Jon and Nancy were on their first date. He was nervous and had sweaty palms. "I want to hold your hand," she said. Jon plummeted both hands into the popcorn. "No, sorry," he said, smiling like a madman. His whole body began sweating and he died a little inside, knowing this was all too much for him.

Brad, Tom and AJ were in the middle row, dead centre. They were film geeks and all decided they hated the movie -- and this was before it had even started. They bought tickets without knowing what it was -- but they knew it would be terrible, they could tell by the type of audience.

Riley and Alice loved the movie, but hated the three guys behind them who were constantly ridiculing it. It was obvious to them that the guys were trying to impress them with their trendy disdain, but it wasn't working. Alice felt sad, thinking about all the men who'd stayed alone because they didn't realise how negative being negative sounded to women.

Stefan was angry at the projection. There was definitely a problem. Also, the sound was too quiet. Lisa just wanted him to kiss her, but he was too outraged. She tried her magic -- a movement of the arms and a little eye contact. He looked at her, and wow she was beautiful. He wondered why he could see her so clearly. It was because of the Fire Exit sign, so bright! Stefan kicked the chair in front of him and mumbled something about the cinema staff being 'amateurs'.

Albert didn't know for sure, but he sensed that this would probably be his last visit to the cinema. He longed for Ginger Rogers, but was content with a bald guy shooting at cars, because it distracted him from what the doctor had just told him. He thought about Gina, and all her favourite pictures. He missed being able to talk to her. He missed her smell. There was one film she absolutely loved, that starred Henry Fonda, but he couldn't remember the name of it.

Scarlett didn't care about the movie, she only cared about Liam. For the next two hours, she could pretend he wasn't leaving. She could pretend the play-fight over popcorn didn't have a subtext. She could pretend she wasn't lost in sadness. She could pretend he cared more than he did. While he was made to sit silently in a dark room, she could convince herself he wasn't an asshole. She could convince herself this thing wasn't over.

All Becci could see as she looked for a seat, was couples. But then she saw: the guy. All alone and intriguing. She sat next to him, of course. She spent the entire movie wondering what she would say to him at the end. The end came, and she rushed out quickly without saying a word. She always does things like that, and has no idea why.

Care to share?

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?