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Sunday, 29 July 2012

The Password is Filmfrumbles

Most of the time my thoughts are fractured, little snippets. Like animals fighting for attention. Somewhere in my brain is the judge, the guy who says "not worthy", "not original," or very occasionally, "fantastic!" The problem is, this inner Judge assumes an unearned jurisdiction in my brain. It's like that annoying FBI dude who turns up at the crime scene and tells Denzel Washington to go home.

Here's an example: I think I have it within me to write an all-time-great romantic comedy, but my judge says two things, one is, "but your writing sucks!" and the other is "Rom-Com? Pathetic! Do something more worthwhile!"

Amazing how we become victims of the fictional characters inside our heads. I think growing up is all about blocking your best routes to creativity. Maturity is opening them back up again.

"I think growing up is all about blocking your best routes to creativity. Maturity is opening them back up again."

I like that sentence. Totally unscientific, just a random rambly thought from me. Could be totally without basis, but who cares? It feels good to me. Isn't that what blogging is about anyway? Spewing out your thoughts and whoever has the most authoritative voice wins.

Just like inside my own brain. The strongest voice wins. That's why it's so hard to write, because so many of the ideas trickle through and don't have the strength to stand up for themselves. How are we meant to know a good idea? So many people think they have GENIUS ideas, but then you read the script or watch the movie and wonder what they've been smoking.

So many great moments in art happen by accident, like a reflex. The way an actor's voice creaks, the way a wall blocks the light, the way a last minute script revision improves everything. So often that ISN'T inspiration. It isn't really anything, it just is.

I think sometimes our worst ideas are the best. If I said to you, "write the cheesiest and dumbest action movie of all time", it's entirely possible you could create a masterpiece. Because there's real strength behind the things we resist.

We build up tastes. Ideals. Concepts of what good art is. Then we sit around for years wondering why it isn't clicking. It's because you've got to turn the thing back around. The things you DESPISE in art, what can they teach you? What are you blocking out from your writing, your art, your life? I guarantee, if you switch off that resistance, you'll find a huge stream of energy.

When I started writing this blog post, I didn't know what it would be about, I just wanted to start writing. But that was actually extremely hard for me, because I feel like I should only write when I have a big idea, when I can write something that shows a strong knowledge of film or an abundance of creativity. But why? Who set those rules? My blog is my place to freely ramble as I please, yet so many things inside of me stop me from fully expressing myself.

Part of that is quality control. If I just copy and pasted the word "filmfrumbles" five hundred times and then posted it, you'd think it was pathetic and would be less likely to come back. But a post like this? Maybe you'll find it interesting. Or maybe not. But then why does it matter? If I only write blogs that I think are 'safe' and likely to make you think I am full of filmic knowledge, then I am blocking a huge amount of myself.

You have to know your audience. But you also have to write the word filmfrumbles when you want to. It's just a blog. Just a script. Just a paintbrush. We limit ourselves in countless ways. Look at what you resist, think about what you ridicule, be aware of that which you disassociate from. Inside all of these things is a hidden power.

Filmfrumbles filmfrumbles #filmfrumbles

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What Do You Think of DENZEL WASHINGTON's Career?

There are two versions of Denzel. 

There's Denzel Washington the cop. He knows the rules and he respects the rules, yet sometimes he takes matters into his own hands. He knows how to handle things. He's experienced. He's had a few professional indiscretions, in fact; he's being investigated right now, but it was probably a huge misunderstanding. 

Then there's the Denzel Washington who inspires black people to be amazing and white people to be less racist. He goes to a college and finds a bunch of black youngsters who are disrespecting each other. He teaches them a lesson or two about life. Then he finds some ignorant white folk and teaches them a thing or two about life. Then he takes his team/community into a competition and they win, or lose. Either way, they learn valuable life lessons.


Now, I LOVE his movies. I don't think anyone else is as watchable as he is. I think he absolutely nails it every time. But when I look at his career, I don't see that much range. I feel like, if he were to die today, we'd feel that he was capable of much more. He's worked with some good directors; but how many greats? Spike Lee loves him, and he's just worked with Zemeckis, but I bet that if you saw Denzel's bucket list of directors to work with, he wouldn't have ticked off that many of them. 

Does he not get offered the roles? Or does he play it safe and earn a pay cheque? Or is Hollywood so scared of messing with the magic Denzel-Box-Office formula that they refuse to greenlight anything different? Denzel is undoubtedly a movie star -- he's not the guy who does small independent movies because of a good script. He focuses on doing one movie a year, usually about a Police Detective who may or may not be a good guy, and he does it very well. 

The answer could be simple. He's a family man. He has a life outside of his art. He's been quoted in the past as saying he likes to do one film a year and then go travelling with his wife and kids. In fact, now his kids are grown up and have successful careers (one of them is a professional football player), he has lots of other things to focus on and be proud of. So maybe he just sees his art as work. Lifestyle maintenance. And who am I to judge? I respect that. He's certainly doing a better job at it, artistically, than people like Eddie Murphy and Adam Sandler. 

There have been so many great roles. 'Philadelphia', wow! 'Man on Fire', hell yeah! 'He Got Game' & 'John Q' are personal favourites. Yet still I feel something is missing. Tom Hanks had 'Forrest Gump', Morgan Freeman had 'Shawshank Redemption', and Al Pacino had 'The Godfather'. Has Denzel Washington had his masterpiece yet?


His acting is a masterpiece every single time. But the material isn't. Will we ever see it? I ask this as a fan. He's been close, many times. He was fantastic in 'Training Day', riveting in 'Inside Man' and inspiring in 'The Great Debaters'. But regardless of how good he was; none of these films go down as classics. They're good, perhaps great; but they don't get the gold medal. Is Denzel Washington's best yet to come?

Care to share?

Friday, 27 July 2012

London Olympics 2012 - The Opening Ceremony

They wheeled McCartney out, and if we've learned anything in recent years, it's that they always wheel McCartney out to sing a tune. Aside from that, everything was fantastic.

Britain isn't perfect. The education system is messed up, the government's a joke and too many people are going through hard times. But we know how to put on a show. And we have so many things to be proud of.

Tonight was a reminder of the cultural significance of our film, our music, our sense of humour. It sets the tone that influences artists the world over. From Chaplin, through Punk rock, to Danny Boyle; we have artists who are class acts, innovators, game changers.

What a spectacle! Don't you think London is beautiful at night? It's one of the greatest cities in the world. You can remain cynical if you want, but you'll be missing out -- because the whole world is here. How often do people truly come together to do something? We looked out of the window tonight and saw London lit up with fireworks -- it was a sight to remember. The world is here.

I loved the section about the NHS and Great Ormond Street. The NHS isn't perfect, and with government's like the current one, there's always the worry they'll dismantle it. That's why tonight's ceremony was so important. It put the doctors, patients and children on the centre stage. The health service is a huge privilege. Sure, sometimes you have to wait nine hours for a blood test and six months for an operation, but it's free! Our money is going to good use.

It's a time of austerity and we spent billions on the Olympics, so I'm aware of the hypocrisy, I don't disagree there were other ways we could have spent the money. But we're here now, we did it, and The Queen can ACT!

And Rowan Atkinson stole the show. Wonderful.

And thousands of volunteers danced their asses off for free. But that experience is so much more valuable than anything money can buy. They put on a hell of a show. And the music was great. And the intro video captured so much of the magic of London.

Danny Boyle did a great job. It's impossible to measure the value of art on a society, but it has an impact. The good feeling that people get inside when art is done right is unlike anything else. Make no mistake -- tonight was a piece of art. A work of incredible vision. Could I have done what Danny Boyle did? Not in a million years. It was like twenty films and thirty theatre shows rolled into one. Not only that, but everything WORKED!

A great night, I'm proud to be British. Now let's mute old McCartney (I love him, but it's over), and let's elect a real government, then we could really be on to something here.

Care to share?

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Your Role in Fulfilling the Potential of INDEPENDENT FILM Production

WRITERS

You don't have to report to anyone. They don't have to win the girl at the end. This is your chance to say something different. The history of the world has been recorded, shared and experienced through different methods of storytelling and this is your chance to do it in your own way.

Grab us. Pull us in. Don't let us go.

What is the story that you really want to tell? What have you been waiting all your life to tell the world? Your job is not to think about what the market wants or what will sell to Hollywood. Your job is to write something so damn engaging that we can't put it down, so that everyone who reads it screams "Yes! This HAS TO BE MADE!"

That doesn't mean it has to be shocking. It doesn't mean you to have to more violent than the last guy. It just means you need to tell a great story. Build some characters who we care about, who are doing something in a way that is different to what we've seen before. Write about what you know and what you dream about and do it in your own unique way. That is how we get interested.

PRODUCERS

Don't be afraid of it. Don't turn down a project because you don't know how to market it. If you start with that insecurity, then you're never going to raise the money.

Find a project you're passionate about. Something that stirs your insides and makes you ecstatic, or scared, or angry. If it really, truly works for you on a GUT level, then THAT is the project you need to produce. Because if it makes you feel that way, it will make audiences feel that way too. Your job is to support the vision.

Maybe Hollywood doesn't care about violin players from Norway or two drunken soldiers who live in poverty, but it's your job to MAKE them care. It's not your job to make some clone of what worked last year. Don't be that guy.

There is great writing out there that's waiting to be produced. You've got to hunt it down like a ruthless animal. But when you find it, SUPPORT IT! NURTURE IT! BELIEVE IN IT! There are too many producers out there peddling average shit that no-one's interested in, because they think it's what sells. And yes, most of what we see in cinemas is average nonsense, but not from the independent scene. Bad independent movies end up on the scrapheap. Nobody wants to watch your shit movie. Take a risk and aim for greatness, for something that will matter to people.


DIRECTORS

Independent film is not about style. It's about, guess what: independence. It's time to get rid of the independent film 'look'. You know the one I'm talking about -- handheld, colour zapped out a little bit, quirky soundtrack. If that's your true vision, fine, but don't be beholden to it.

Independent film is an opportunity for you to share your vision with the world. It's your chance to tell a unique story. To put your personality and sensibilities into what we see.

Don't play it safe. 

But at the same time; don't use a crane shot just because you have access to a crane. 


Your decisions should be in service to the story. I know you know this, but I'm just trying to remind you; this is your story to tell. The more you make it your own and about the story, the more it will resonate. Don't try to make it look and feel like 'Juno' and 'Away We Go' because you won't do it as well as them. Focus on your own style and personality. Making independent films is the best way you're ever going to get to have your own artistic VOICE. Don't waste it. 


ACTORS 


The indie isn't the stepping stone. This isn't about making it into the bigger leagues. This is the league you want to be playing in; because it's where the characters are unique and actually MEAN something. In the superhero movies it's all black and white, good and bad. The independent scene is where you get to really find your character and find yourself. 


The film you're in isn't going to look and feel like a Hollywood movie, it's going to look and feel like it's very own thing. And you play a big part in creating that. Make decisions about your character and fight for them. Make them memorable. It doesn't mean you have to be shocking or a scene stealer, it just means you need to commit to doing something truthful. 


AUDIENCE 


Give the movies a chance. An indie film might not start the way you expect, and it may not end that way either. But you've got to take a risk when you visit the cinema. You've got to try out the smaller movies. Sure, sometimes they're shockingly bad, but when they nail it they really nail it. With the big-budget movie, the best you can expect is to be entertained. With an indie, there are less roadblocks to the personal; less thorns on the rose; you might just find something that resonates with who you are. 


SOCIAL MEDIA & CROWD-FUNDING


We are so bored of your projects. Your zombie film is not as unique as you think it is. 


Find new ways to use these platforms. Actually connect with people. Engage in conversation. Even if that means 100 tweets that are genuine conversation rather than desperately pleading for donations. 


Nobody cares about your movie, and that's probably because it's not very interesting. Rethink your projects and rethink your methods. A truly great project makes people feel alive inside, they can't wait to get involved. Crowd-funding isn't easy, and copying last year's success story isn't going to work for you. Crowdfunding is a lot like the movies themselves; you can never know what will work, what will connect with people. 


Be original. Be unique. And don't be obnoxious and demanding. You are communicating with other human beings. That 'Only $5' deal you're offering? Well, people work really hard for that five dollars.  What are the chances that your use of their $5 will really do them justice? Think about that before you take everyone's money. 

Care to share?

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Jenna

We met in the basement of the pub where I was holding auditions. She didn't get the role and I'm not sure she ever forgave me. We became friends and I don't remember much of it from those years. I'm guessing we saw movies together and met for coffee. I have no idea. How crazy is that? We went to see a comedian at the Riverside Studios, I remember that.

It's weird how some friendships stick and some don't. You can never really tell. I made great friends even just last year, and one or two are still around and some have names I'd struggle to recall.

Jenna stuck.

One thing I remember clearly is her coming to mine for help with an audition video for a drama school in New York. She had her piece prepared and we filmed it. She looked to me for advice and ideas, and I duly obliged, not that I knew anything about what a drama school in New York would be looking for.

She sent the video, the application and whatever else to the school and things carried on as normal. She helped out on one or two of my film shoots. She was a great actress, even then, but I never cast her. Weird how that happens. And I'm not writing this to tell you that we're the closest of friends, because we're probably not. And I'm not writing this to tell you that it's a romantic thing, because it isn't. I'm just writing to say that she means something to me and that it's great to have someone who means something to you because how often does that happen?

She moved to New York.

We kept in touch. But we did it in our way, where we turn up in each others inboxes in easily digestible little notes every now and then.

And then I went to New York.

She let me crash at hers and she let me take her bed. Looking back, why did I allow that? I was definitely selfish. Her stuck out in the lounge with a crazy hyperactive cat, and me hogging the room.  I'd love to tell you that we had an amazing week full of adventure -- and at times we did, but mostly I feel like we didn't really get along at all. Not that anything bad happened --- but she was crazy busy and I was crazy touristy and probably demanding of her time. I went out and fell in love with New York and we'd meet up occasionally and we saw a Knicks game ----

And then it was time to leave.

The moment I'm going to tell you about was probably thirty minutes before I got in a yellow taxi and left.

We were in some bar. I think it was near to her school. And I can't remember a specific conversation or anything at all. But I remember that feeling. How to describe it? It was just a moment, y'know? And I'm not talking about a romantic moment, because it wasn't that. It was just that moment when you know you have a friend, you know you understand each other, and that you like each other. It was the first time in the whole week that we were relaxed. And we loved each others company.

I headed to JFK.

That was in March. April through to October was the usual; just me doing my thing in London with the rain falling down.

In November I jumped on a plane to New York City.

I didn't stay with Jenna. And I had plans. There were film shoots, meetings, new friends. This time, whenever we met up, it worked. Again, I'm not totally sure what we did, nor how often, although I do remember a lot of meeting up for cake. What else? I don't know. The specifics of New York memories often fade and you're just left with the feeling.

In December I went back home.

Nearly a year passed and we kept in touch via Facebook, because that's how people keep in touch. Looking back, the emails were surprisingly long and usually about nothing. But the good kind of nothing.

The following year, October came around and I headed to New York. I saw her in a play and cast her in a film. We ate cake and drank tea, or maybe she had coffee. I don't know whether we spent a lot of time together or not much at all but it was just the right amount. We walked and talked in Central Park. We had more cake, we were always eating cake.

Pretty soon I was back in London.

Some months later, she was back home too. But I didn't tell you: she's not from London. She's from a whole different part of the world. She flew back there and I stayed here.

Three years have passed.

I know only a fraction of her life. And some of that fraction has been enormously bad. We became friends when a bunch of awful things were happening in my life, and in more recent time she's been through some things that I can't even imagine. And those versions of us in New York, eating cake and walking through the Village, they're like ghosts. Like movies starring people pretending to be us.

We keep in touch, in our way. We always know that the other one exists. We don't Skype as much as we should. And I should go there, or she should come here, or we should both go to New York. It's just that life doesn't always work like that.

Jenna is fantastic. Some friendships stick. 

Care to share?

Monday, 23 July 2012

Proof That BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN'S BIGGEST INFLUENCE Is ME!

Deep down, I always knew it. I'm just glad he finally admitted it.

"I try to put on the kind of show that the kid in the front row is going to come to and never forget."
-Bruce Springsteen

SOURCE: The New Yorker.

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Wednesday, 18 July 2012

My Film Blog

It was a sudden idea. I was on the train, bored. I decided to start a film blog. A place where I could put my passions down on the page. It wouldn't be about me. It had nothing to do with advertising myself, or career advancement. It was just a place to scream about the things I love.

I needed a name for it. It came quickly to my mind; "KID IN THE FRONT ROW!". I loved it. Creativity is always a rush to me, never a slow burn. The idea hits immediately, and I have to act on it. If it's inspiration for a tweet, great! A thought lasts roughly as long as a tweet. But a feature film? The idea is a thunderbolt but the execution can't be done in one sitting. Anyway, the blog name came to me out of nowhere. But surely it was already being used? When I got home, I googled it, I looked around. It was a phrase that had seemingly never been used, even though surely it's a phrase that people use all the time?

It was Blogger or Wordpress. How to decide? I knew nothing, and went with Blogger, probably because I knew nothing. It's mostly been good to me, apart from the fact that the thing you type in the formatting box looks absolutely nothing like what ends up on the website. The hardest part about blogging is making the paragraphs not look like a car wreck.

Today I've been cleaning up old posts -- deleting links that don't work, videos that won't load, and getting rid of spam comments. Seeing all the comments from years gone by was like visiting old friends. Someone called Anna had left comments on 25 different posts -- yet when I clicked through to her link, it didn't exist anymore. Did she delete her blog? Is she still alive? Is she happy?

That's the weird thing about communities such as this. Some of you I see commenting nearly every day, but what do I know about you? And what do you know about me? I'm anonymous! We get so close yet somehow, keep a huge distance.

And I saw names in the comments of people who I've fallen out with. What did we argue about? I have no idea. Looking back, it seems ridiculous; how can anyone have a disagreement over a blog? Life happens here like it happens everywhere else. There are people who are jealous of my blog, and there are blogs I have been jealous of. There are friends I made who used to email and comment all the time; and now they're nowhere to be seen. Did they forget this place? Did I forget them, not give them the attention they deserved?

It's just a blog. Sometimes you feel like you're just writing to yourself. Other times you realise that people come here because it means something to them. That's a powerful thing, it's a responsibility. It's why I care so much. You realise after a while that your blog is as much about you as everything else you do.

I spent most of today checking out the websites and blogs of people who have left comments here over the past three and a half years. There have been over 5000 comments on this blog, so I couldn't get to them all. But 5000!? Wow. Isn't the internet fantastic? So much communication, so many ideas shared.


Looking back at my writing: some of it is inspired! Some of it I would happily delete. But it is what it is; and you just have to keep going and going and writing and writing, because that's what blogging is. Some of you are reading me right now for the first time, some for the hundredth. Some of you are regulars now but some day soon you might not be. I'd like you to stick around but it's out of my control. I'm just glad that, for whatever journey you're on right now; a part of it involves coming here. 

Care to share?

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Wisdom & Stories from the DANNY DEVITO Masterclass at the THEATRE ROYAL HAYMARKET, LONDON

I had a three hour gap in my schedule today, and didn't know why. Then I got the invite to go see Danny Devito on Haymarket, where I already was. Sometimes you don't need to have everything decided, you need space for the universe to guide you.



AUDITIONING

He told the famous story about his audition for TAXI. He walked into the room, threw the script down and said, "Who wrote this shit?" There was a moment's silence, and then they all started laughing. He knew he'd get the role.

He says being comfortable going into an audition in 90% of the job. Mastering yourself, so that you can show them a piece of who YOU are. Even though you're a character, you're showing them YOU. When you can do that, then you stand a chance. 

He says you should go in with 'something'. Make a decision about your character.

WORK-RATE

He finishes his run on London's West End in 'THE SUNSHINE BOYS' this Saturday. Sunday he flies home. Monday he begins shooting the new season of 'IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA'

People don't realise how hard the big actors work. Not just to make it in the industry, but to sustain it.

SCRIPTS

He says it depends who you're working with. If it's a Neil Simon stage play or a David Mamet screenplay, every comma is essential. Your job is to service to vision.

On 'IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA', improvisation is king. They shoot on three cameras, so if they nail it, they have all the coverage.

WOODY ALLEN

I was down in the front row (of course), so got the first audience question. I said, "When you worked with Woody Allen---" and then DeVito snapped to life. Everyone has a Woody Allen story and this is his:

He got 9 pages sent in the post, with a note from Woody. It said "if you like it, keep it and we'll do it. If not, send it back and we'll work together in the future."

He kept it, but didn't talk to anyone else from the production again.

Months later, I think it was again through the post, he had to decide on costume, on a few pairs of shoes and a suit, which he did. 

Then suddenly he got the call. "We're doing the scenes on Tuesday". 

Then he was on set, in the trailer. Woody came and said hello, briefly, then went away.

And Woody only gave Danny one direction during the whole shoot, "bigger." He wanted it bigger, more over the top.

The scene where De Vito has a heart attack, they had to shoot it nine times, just so Woody could nail one of his lines.

ACTING SCHOOL


A couple of actors mentioned that they're training in the same place he went to back in the 60's. He compared it to kindergarten. He said, "Rely on yourself to filter out the bullshit," because so much of it is bullshit. It's about finding what resonates with you.

GETTING CAST

A young actress asked the typical question, "how do I get cast? How do I make it in comedy?"

DeVito said to focus on the now. Don't get caught up in thoughts of too far ahead. Focus on THIS audition, THIS short film. He says experience is paramount. 

That's the thing with young actors -- they want to know how to make it, they want to know the shortcuts. DeVito reminded people to just do the work. It was simple yet profound.

JACK NICHOLSON

He told us about the first time he showed "HOFFA" to Jack Nicholson. It was in the screening room at 20th Century Fox, and it was a film print, so you couldn't pause it. It got towards the big ending and Nicholson turned to DeVito and said "Danny, I really need to pee."

DeVito said "No, you can't miss the ending." 

"But I really have to pee," said Nicholson.

DeVito took him to the back on the screening room and opened the double doors.

He went and fetched a garbage can.

DeVito held the can for Nicholson to pee into while watching the end of the movie. And that's a true story.

PHILOSOPHY

The last question was, "do you have shit days?"

"I'm having one right now," he quipped.

He says that life is made up of good and bad, and that you can avoid neither. He compared it to flowing downstream. Sometimes you're flowing along nicely, sometimes you're hitting up against rocks.

Either way, you're still flowing down that river.

Regarding the bad stuff, he said, "embrace it, and then let it go".

Regarding the good stuff, he said: "embrace it, and then let it go."




Care to share?

Saturday, 14 July 2012

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & THE E STREET BAND - HARD ROCK CALLING 2012 - Hyde Park, London REVIEW

Bruce Springsteen was on stage with Paul McCartney, a Beatle! One of those moments you wait all your life for, and 100,000 of us were aware of it.

And then the organisers pulled the plug. The curfew at Hyde Park is 10.30pm, and as Bruce and Paul came to the end of a rousing rendition of "Twist and Shout," at 10.39pm, the sound faded out. They carried on singing, unaware that we were hearing nothing. It was an outrageous end to what, otherwise, was one of the greatest concerts I've ever seen.





It began with just Bruce, his harmonica, and Roy Bittan on the keyboard. They did a stripped down and hauntingly beautiful version of my favourite song, 'Thunder Road', just like how they played it the first time they were played in London, back in 1975. When the night begins with a rare version of your favourite song in the universe, you know you're in for a special night.

I'm on the train home as I write this, and I'm exhausted! I want to write a detailed review but my brain is forgetting all the information. I think it's because I'm satisfied. I'm complete. For one night only, everything is wonderful. The music exists and we're dancing in the dark and everything else is secondary.

John Fogerty was the support act. Not everyone knew who he was, but they paid attention. His distinct voice is a joy to hear-- and I've always wanted to hear 'Fortunate Son' and 'Have You Ever Seen The Rain?' live. He also did 'Bad Moon Rising', 'Pretty Woman' and 'Proud Mary'. Bruce joined him on stage for 'Rockin' All Over The World'. Fogerty was the perfect support act. 

Springsteen's new material isn't his best. The early part of the set was full of more recent tracks; 'Wrecking Ball', 'We Take Care of Our Own', 'Death to My Hometown'; they're not classics but they're good for warming you up, getting you into the zone.

'My City of Ruins' was a stand out. Part hymn, part celebration, part ode to Clarence Clemons, it resonated deeply. Bruce spoke about the people who are with us and the people who are no longer around. He was talking about Clarence and Danny Federici, but he was also talking about every member of the audience who was missing someone special. That's what people don't get about Springsteen gigs, how personal they are. They cut through to your core.

But I don't want it to sound depressing -- the gig was one big party. In years gone by, his gigs could be hard work if you weren't a die hard, it was like he wanted to nail the perfect setlist. Now he's fulfilling his own promise: he wants to nail the perfect house party.

He plays the hits. He plays the rarities that only 9 fans know about. He does covers. He does whatever it takes to bring it home. He went through a period of never playing 'Born in the USA', but tonight he went for it, and it was anthemic. And I know it's not meant to be, I know what the song is really about; but you can't help but feel the joy of screaming "I was born, in the USA!"

'Born to Run' was a highlight, but then it always is. There were other highlights, but my brain is struggling to recall the details. Great gigs aren't about the details, they're about the feelings.

Talking of feelings, I'm fucking pissed about them cutting the sound. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN WAS SINGING WITH A BEATLE! Seriously, is 10.39pm too late for a rock concert in the middle of a large field? Were the rich residents in their soundproof apartments a little unsettled? Were the pigeons lodging complaints? What the fuck? A Beatle is singing. 100,000 people are in their element. 

When Bruce introduced the guest, I thought I heard it wrong. "McCartney!?" It was him. Now, I wouldn't pay to see a McCartney gig. His voice is gone, and he makes 'Hey Jude' go on for about 9 hours. But to have him as a surprise guest: incredible. They dived straight into "I Saw Her Standing There". That was my favourite Beatles song when I was a teenager (when I was first getting into them).

So what else to say about the gig? I have to tell you about Jake Clemons, filling his Uncle's shoes on saxophone --- a remarkable talent, and you can see how much it means to him. Wonderful.

I also felt, in many ways, that the E Street Band felt unusually muted tonight. I only spotted Patti Scialfa on stage during one of the songs -- in recent years she's been a lot more present. And the unmistakable sound of Roy Bittan didn't sound as upfront and dominant as usual. Maybe it was just the sound levels (we were in the middle a hundred thousand people, many many many rows from the front). And the setlist didn't really feel like an E Street setlist -- maybe because the show was packed full of guest appearances (Tom Morello, John Fogerty, and of course, McCartney). I'm not complaining, it was a fantastic gig. Just didn't feel that unmistakable E Street Band sound as much as I usually do at their gigs.

To summarise; a fantastic night. The Boss was on fire! He was in a great mood, full of age-defying-energy, and his voice soared. This is rock n' roll at it's greatest. The E Street Band, as always, is changing; yet Springsteen manages to constantly evolve - wherever we are a year or five from now, Bruce will be there to show us how to get through it. 


*Correction. Patti Scialfa wasn't there. I was seeing things. That happens sometimes. I also thought I spotted Elvis during 'Badlands', but thought best not to mention it. 

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Friday, 13 July 2012

When An Artist MEANS IT!

You can just tell. There's nothing like it.

Some artists go a whole career without really meaning it.

Look at this performance of Van Morrison's 'Into The Mystic' by Glen Hansard and Marketa Iglova.


It's good, right from the beginning. But just wait till you get to 1min 30; they come ALIVE! And the rest of the performance is transcendent. You're watching two people caught up in LIFE, and their love, and their craft, and the audience. It's everything! And look at the moment on 2mins 22seconds, don't you just love that!

I was watching the documentary about them a few days back, 'The Swell Season'; and Glen talks about how when he was in the band The Frames, he'd write in a certain way --- and it wasn't until he wrote with Marketa, that he really allowed himself to be romantic, to really let that side of himself out. And now look at him; he's at the peak of his career, and he's found his creative soulmate, and potentially his soulmate soulmate too. Just look at them perform together! You can't help but get a buzz out of it. It's life, right THERE!


Just look at the concentration. Look at the little tiny almost imperceptible shifts in their faces, in their voices. Feel the chill when they sing together from 1min 6secs. They're SO in the moment. I love music. 

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A SMALL SCENE FEATURING ONLY MEN BECAUSE MOST SCENES FEATURE ONLY MEN

I have written a short masterpiece.

By the time you've read this, it will probably be in a cinema (although re-written as a superhero movie).

Read it HERE.

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Thursday, 12 July 2012

Interview with TV Sitcom Writer JAY KOGEN

'FRASIER' was always my favourite sitcom. I adored the characters and the sense of humour, but most of all: I loved the writing. It was the first show where I got obsessed, by trying to figure out how they crafted all the episodes. And like any show, as the seasons flew by --- some episodes were better than others. And one thing I noticed in later seasons -- is that most of my favourite episodes were written by a guy called Jay Kogen.

So it's exciting for me, years later, to be interviewing a comedic writer who played a big part in my writing interests at quite an early stage. He's also written episodes of 'THE SIMPSONS', 'EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND' and 'MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE', and much more. 

This is an extensive interview with a Hollywood screenwriter who has been in writing rooms alongside some of the all time great comedic writers. We speak in depth about the process of putting together a pilot, writing for a show -- and by focusing specifically on one of his great 'FRASIER' episodes, he explains exactly how an episode makes the journey from the pitch to the screen. A fascinating insight into writing for television with a hugely talented writer: JAY KOGEN.


KID IN THE FRONT ROW: You’re doing a pilot right now, is that right?

JAY KOGEN: I’m just finishing a pilot, yes.

How’s it going?

It’s going well. I think so – every pilot I’ve ever done I thought was going well. I liked them all. I always fall in love with the pilot. Rarely do you do it and think ‘oh, this sucks’. You always do it and think ‘this could be a show, this should be on TV!’

How about when you look back at them like a year or two later, do you still think the ones that didn’t work out are great, or do you see why they didn’t work out?

Sometimes I can see why they didn’t work out. I also see what was good about them. I also see the flaws in them that I saw when---- everything I do still has flaws – I see flaws in everything. I saw flaws in ‘The Simpsons’, I saw flaws in ‘Frasier’. I see flaws in all shows. 

But I definitely see the flaws. And the things that we didn’t get right always come back and haunt me when I look at them again, as well as the things that we got right. 

How much of those flaws, when you look back, are about the writing, and how much of that is all the other elements like the casting and directing, and all the different things---

Y’know. It’s hard to say. Some of the flaws were bad writing, true. Some were good writing, or things that were funny on paper that could not be realised. And I’m not sure whose fault that is --  maybe that’s also the fault of the writing-- writing things that look good on paper but can’t be reproduced by actors on camera. 

Sometimes there are things that were great on the paper but the actor just didn’t hit it or the mood just wasn’t right or it was a physical or visual joke that didn’t get realised properly. So, it’s all a mix. 

Do you think you can always tell when you’re casting, do you always know if the actors are right? Like, I’ve cast people where—you’re convinced they’re right for it… and especially with comedy, when it comes down to it, it’s those little tiny subtle things in your writing isn’t it—that actors can’t always nail –

It’s one of those things where, when your actor can’t do the joke you wrote, you’ve got to change the joke. If you’ve cast them right, they can be like 75-80% of what you thought they could be. And maybe you have to change the writing 20%, or change the writing 10% and goose them 10% to be more in the direction you want, but nobody’s going to be exactly what you want. And writers always make the mistake of thinking they’ll find someone who will do the work just the way they heard it in their head. That’s a huge mistake, because things are often better than the way we heard it in our head. And we let a human being take a stab at it and put their own creative spin on it and it’s better. 

How long have you spent on this pilot so far – how much of your life has it taken up? 

Well, it’s a long process, and it’s not taken up 100% of my time this time, but it’s been about a year and a half.

So of course, if that doesn’t last, it’s pretty heartbreaking right?

Yeah well, I mean, y’know, you’re getting paid for that time, you’re getting paid to do the work on it, so it’s your job. But the heartbreak is that you think there’s so much potential there that is squandered when the show doesn’t get picked up. And odds are – your show will not get picked up. You start off at a network that’s doing a hundred pilots, you’re one of a hundred. Of those pilots – ten will get picked up. Of those ten scripts that get picked up, like three become shows – so few. Your odds are very low going in. It’s better than a regular lottery but it’s kind of a lottery. 

This pilot you’re creating at the moment – did you write it all yourself, or did you have a writing staff?

I did write it all myself. 

Is that your preference? 

I like working with partners. I like writing by myself. I like a combination, it depends. I find that working with people helps me in different ways. It gives me good perspective, it also gives me deadlines. When you’re working with somebody, you can’t slack off as much. 

So with a show like ‘Frasier’, where the characters and style have already been long established by the time you wrote your first episode. How do you combine staying true to what the show is and also getting your style on the page – 

How do you get your style on the page? You don’t! Your job, when you’re doing ‘Frasier’, is to write the kind of shows that the people who run ‘Frasier’ like. And if you don’t like the kind of show that ‘Frasier’ is then you shouldn’t work there.



So like, I didn’t run that show – I worked on it. The most essential boss in that environment was Christopher Lloyd. He’s really smart, really funny – he really knew his characters. Others were there, like David Lee; the creators of the show – but not full time. Chris Lloyd was there full time. And you had to appeal to Chris Lloyd. You had to make your story pitches and joke pitches and moments and edits to be what he likes. So you would pitch things that you thought would go down well with Chris, and that’s your job. Your job is to edit out all the things that you thought were funny but would not go well with Chris. And go to the things that he would like, because we’re all there to make that show. And the longer it takes, the more energy we use; that’s bad. We should only be using our energies to do things that are in the realms of possibilities to get on that show. 

Looking at a specific episode, the one you won an Emmy for, ‘Merry Christmas Mrs. Moskowitz’. That episode, for example, was that an idea that you had pitched? 

That is an idea that came about in a room with a lot of people. It wasn’t my idea that I had brought to him. It was an idea that came about in the room. We wanted to do a Christmas episode, and I think the idea that Frasier pretends to be Jewish may have been something that I pitched, or it may not have been; I honestly don’t remember. But the outline came about, y’know, we pitched the story and the outline; and there was actually a day of outlines that I missed. I came back and some of it had been worked out without me and some of that I had to learn and embrace and we changed that, but it’s funny how it all fell together. And then it was my job to take that outline that we agreed on, and that specifically Chris liked and that the show creators then approved. And then I had to go and write it out into a full outline, y’know, like a fifteen page kind of mini-script --- and then that gets looked at and changed, and then edited, and then they say go ahead and write the script and then I wrote the script.




And then that script went to the room, and it got changed and punched up and fixed. And then it went in rehearsal and the actors took a stab at it and they made things better. And some things got changed from there, and it went through a lot of different processes. So the idea that I want to dissuade people from, which I don’t think is true, at least in most shows, is that showrunners are looking for that magical voice, that is completely different from theirs, to put into their show. I think they’re looking for a magical voice that’s complimentary to theirs, to put into their show; and something that maybe they might have thought of themselves or were pretty close to it – cause that’s what they’ll put on. And so, my job when I wrote ‘Frasier’ and that particular episode, was to write a good version of ‘Frasier’. Many of my ‘Frasier’s’, I think, were broader than some of the others, cause I’m probably a broader writer. I didn’t write a lot of the French farce episodes of ‘Frasier’. I didn’t write too many episodes where it all took place in one room the whole time.

But then that episode was mostly in the apartment, when they were in and out of the kitchen –

Yeah, but a lot of it is physical, and people dressed in costumes, and singing – and it’s more broader than snarky; I dunno. It seemed different.



What writers have influenced you the most?

Well my father, he probably influenced me the most, in all ways (Note: Jay's father is the great comedy writer Arnie Kogen). Ray Bradbury who just died was very influential to me. I’m not sure he was influential to my comedy – but he was definitely influential to me. I loved Ben Hecht, incredible. So many great writers --- Billy Wilder and I.A.L Diamond. Jim Brooks. Sam Simon, great writer, has influenced me a great deal.  The guys I have worked with, who’ve trained me, they’re my most heavy influence, definitely. 

When you finish a first draft of something, who do you first show it to?

Lately I’ve been showing it to friends. I used to never do that. I used to only show it to the people I was working with. I show it to my wife – sometimes she’s sick of reading my scripts. I show it to my Dad sometimes. I get a lot of input, and usually the things that change are the things that I agree are kind of iffy – and sometimes my Dad will say “This is horrible,” but I’ll love it – and I’ll keep it in any way. You don’t change the things that you’re sure about. You only change the things that you were kind of iffy on anyway. 

What about --- having a Dad who is such a great writer – in comedy as well. You say he’s a big influence for you, but at the same time, has that ever added any pressure on you as a writer?

Umm, pressure to me, hmm.

I can just imagine, having a Dad who is such a great writer – I can just imagine it could be hard also, I don’t know.

Well I’ll say, it was a great advantage to me to have a Dad who is a writer. I think I got a big leg up in a lot of different areas. One of which was seeing how writers work. Another was knowing people in showbiz, already, when I wanted to be in show business, I had connections, when people who come from --- Minnesota, have to work a long time to develop connections. So when I wrote a script and was ready to show it, I had people to show it too. It didn’t always help me, but it is certainly a big leg up. So that was very helpful.

My Dad was not encouraging of me becoming a writer – he was actually discouraging of me becoming a writer, so that was kind of unhelpful, in some ways. 

How old were you when you knew you wanted to write? Did you always know that was what you wanted to do? 

I started out wanting to direct movies, and I still do – but I was an actor, and was a bit of a stand up comedian for a short while, and I did some other things. And writing was only one of the things that I thought I might be able to do. I don’t love the act of sitting alone and writing – 

Yeah.

I like working with people. Writing is hard. So, I was not drawn to it instantly. But I did start writing in High School with some friends. And I showed some things I wrote to my father, even in Junior High, when I was quite young I guess, y’know, fourteen, fifteen. And he was, y’know – pretty honest about how bad he thought they were. He didn’t like them, and he was not really impressed with my writing and didn’t think that it was a field that I should necessarily head into, for a number of reasons. One, I don’t think he thought I was particularly talented at it, and the second is, the life of a writer is pretty precarious, and you don’t really necessarily want that for your kid. So it was a mixed bag. But eventually he came around. 

When did you first write something that really gave you the confidence to know that you had something, or perhaps it gained a certain recognition, do you remember what that was? 

You know what, I mean, once again ---- I like everything I write. Even the scripts I showed my Dad, that he didn’t like, I liked! I thought they had potential. I think that everyone who shows you a spec script--- nobody turns it into you and says “y’know, it’s not very good,” they like it! I liked the stuff I wrote.

But the first thing I wrote that actually got strangers excited was, I wrote with a pal of mine called Wally Wolodarsky, we wrote a spec script for a show called ‘It’s Gary Shandling’s Show’. This is before 'The Larry Sanders Show' – on ShowTime, and we were runners, P.A’s on that show. And we thought, ‘we could write this show’. 

So we wrote a script, and we showed it to the show. And they thought it was okay, but then we showed it to other people and they thought it was much better than okay. The people on the show thought it was okay but they didn’t do anything with it. And then they sort of said, maybe we’ll give you guys an assignment. So we waited a year for our assignment, and that never came.  And so we wrote another spec for the show hoping that they’d buy that one, and they didn’t buy that one but we showed it to Sam Simon who was a consulting producer on ‘It’s Gary Shandling’s Show’ and he liked it enough to show it to the people at ‘The Tracy Ullman Show,’ and we got out first opportunity to pitch a sketch there. We pitched a sketch, they bought it, we wrote it, and then they hired us on staff. So that’s how we got our first job.


For someone who is outside of the industry – sitting in their home in Minnesota, or wherever – writing their scripts, do you have any advice? I know this is a very typical question. 

If you’re in Minnesota writing ---- write. And eventually you have to get out of Minnesota, and you have to go somewhere where they’re actually making movies and TV shows, or whatever it is that you want to write. So you’ve got to go to New York or Los Angeles or Chicago or someplace where there’s an active community of people actually making this stuff. 

I’m sure Minnesota or Minneapolis has an active theater community but I don’t think it’s the same as the New York theater community. And I don’t think their television is the same as Los Angeles television community. There are places to go where your skills are needed and wanted, but you have to come out and meet people and socialize in order to get those scripts that you are writing read. 

Let’s talk about movies. You said you’d like to direct for film – is that something you see long into the future or something you want to realise soon? 

Well, you know, it’s a slow process – but I’ve been directing things on TV for a while, so we’ll see. It’s a matter of getting the right movie. And low-budget enough that someone will give me a chance. And a script good enough that someone will give me a chance to direct it.



So it’s not something you’d want to write yourself – to write and direct your own movie?

Yeah. That’s how you’d have to do it. I have to write a script, and then say, “you can only have this script if I can direct it.” And they’ll say “great, we’ll pay you nothing.” And I’ll have to say “fantastic”.

Ha, Yeah. 

And then go do it. 

So have you already written the material you think you’d like to make, or?

I’m writing a couple of movies right now and any of them could be something I might be able to direct, we’ll see. I always have too many projects at the same time, which is a problem. So I can never, really, fully, devote myself to any one of them—because it’s always a mad dash to finish a bunch of things. 

How does that come about – is that ambition? Or self-destruction? Or that you’re getting so many offers to do stuff?

I think I’m afraid of being out of work. So I constantly generate projects, and I say yes to a lot of things, that I like. And I get offers sometimes that are nice or something, and sometimes I just generate my own things. I constantly wanna be--- I’m also, I may be a bit ADD. It requires me to have other things on my mind. It helps if I have one project to do if I’m also occasionally thinking about something else, so that my mind isn’t always concentrated on the one thing – so I can go back and forth. 

Do you find you get distracted by all the Facebook and Twitter and websites – are you one of them or ---

Oh absolutely. My phone, and texts and games and ‘Words with Friends’ –

‘Words With Friends’ is the worst. 

I have the ability to waste time doing just about anything. Deadlines are really helpful to me. 

So you need them set externally do you think? 

Yes. It definitely helps. 

So – the pilot you’re working on right now. Can you tell me anything about it, or have you got to keep it under wraps at the moment? 

It’s about a guy who is raising his nephew – they’re like, an odd couple, where the uncle is Oscar and the nephew is Felix. 

Brilliant.

So they’re an odd couple--- the kid is super-smart and the uncle is somewhat stunted in his maturity—that’s the basic story. It’s for Nickelodeon, they’re starting night-time adult programming, for Nick at Nite. 

It's a 22 minute sitcom?

22 minute sitcom for adults, yeah. 

Do you think sitcoms have changed a lot in recent years? Looking back now at like ‘Frasier’, ‘Friends’ and, or – ‘Seinfeld’, I still love them and they’re still hilarious but that feels like an old style of sitcom now, do you think it’s changing somewhat? 

Well --- I’m trying to think. What’s the new style? ‘Big Bang Theory’? I think they’re just new shows, not new styles. ‘The Big Bang Theory’ is basically the same tempo as ‘Friends’ and ‘Seinfeld’. They had lots and lots and lots of different scenes. Lots of short scenes. And ‘Big Bang Theory’ does that. 

‘Modern Family’, which is a single-camera sitcom, is very sitcom-y, by some of the people that made ‘Frasier’ – and it’s very funny and smart. I’m trying to think of how it’s different in essence from something like ‘Father Knows Best’ which was 60 years ago. 

Maybe it hasn’t, I don’t know. It’s just a sense I got – that I thought I’d just throw out there and see what you think. 

I think references change, looks change, tones change. The essence of what it is kind of stays the same. I think sitcoms roll out of favour sometimes and come back into favour. People get bored, it becomes predictable. But eventually, when good acting and good writing come together, y’know hopefully people will show up and watch it. 

Definitely, yeah.

But not always. 

So what are you up to today – working? Writing? 

I’m waiting for the notes from the network on the last cut of my pilot. And then today should be the day we lock it! 

Excellent!

And then we start to put the post-production effects, sounds, colours---- and format it so it looks like a real TV show – so then we send it back to the network and they put it in front of a test audience.


That was the end of the interview. We continued speaking for a few minutes about Jay's questionable 'Words with Friends' tactics (I won't share them here, as they may harm his reputation). I'll keep you up to date in coming months with Jay's sitcom and any news of the feature films that he seems destined to direct. Exciting! 

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From the Scrapbook - The Ghosts Of Past



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Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Notes, Thoughts and Pancakes

1. I used to be king of the rambly email. Now it's condensed for Twitter, and it's not that interesting. I need to write a long messy email to someone awesome.

2. 'Frasier' was a great show.

3. Still not happy about Nora Ephron leaving us. But the aftermath has been beautiful. Why do we wait until people are gone before we share the magical stories?

4. Pancakes are wonderful.

5. I re-designed the site. Did you notice?

6. Today over pancakes we discussed Kevin Bacon. But we didn't eat any bacon. We also discussed Danish films.

7. I don't understand the Republican's position on healthcare.

8. I don't understand Republicans.

9. If you are coming to London for the Olympics, bring an umbrella.

10. The Rio Cinema in Dalston is marvellous.

11. Often in moments of boredom, I look at something in front of me, like, a bench, or some trees, and write something on the spot. I guess it's just to keep me practicing. And for some reason being able to write about nonsense seems worthwhile, somehow.

12. Not that I'd bother writing about trees.

13. Here's what I wrote about trees:

I have not climbed a tree in a long time. I have also never been climbed on by a tree.

Do trees never think of getting their own back by climbing onto humans when they're standing still? And don't tell me trees don't move: back in 1989 one fell over and nearly landed directly on my head.

There have been very few legitimate incidences of trees climbing people. There was the famous one in 1973, when a willow tree climbed onto an unsuspecting man who turned out to be a discarded waxwork of Neil Armstrong. There was also the tree which attempted to crawl up Pierce Brosnan in 1993, but lost its footing around the kneecaps.

Whether the trees will ever find the courage for another attempt is unknown. One hopes that if they do succeed in climbing humans, they will also branch out into jumping off of them.

14. 50 Shades of Grey. There, I said it. This is the last time I ever wish to speak about it.

15. Hype overpowers reason.

16. My most listened to this week:

Bob Dylan - Girl From The North Country
The Waterboys - Girl From The North Country
John Mayer - Comfortable
David Gray - Babylon
Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra - Love's Theme

17. I absolutely love the film 'Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist'

18. What resonates with you is what matters. Not what the critics value. Once you're dead, you'll just wish you had loved what you loved.

19. Every now and again you meet someone who proves beyond all doubt that human beings are be fantastic.

20. Conversation:

BOOK #1: "I'm great."
BOOK #2: "Read me, I'm much more fascinating!"

21. You can only take responsibility for yourself and the people you have kidnapped.

22. What does artistic integrity mean?

23. My headphones broke. I bought some temporary ones for 2.99. They sound terrible, apart from songs by The Rolling Stones, which sound great!

24. You spend your whole life desperate to hear "I love your writing" and then she finally says "I love your writing", and unfortunately it's the most you'll ever get from her.

25. 'The Swell Season' is a MUST SEE documentary. It's about Glen Hansard and Marketa Iglova, stars of 'Once.'

26. 'Beautiful Girls' is a perfect movie. Amazing cast!

27. Peter O'Toole has retired. One of the greats.

28. I get so engrossed in foreign movies that when I look away, I get confused by the fact I no longer understand the story --- eventually I realise, I've been reading subtitles the whole time.

29. Would you rather have a drink with Jeffrey Tambor, Eugene Levy or Richard Jenkins?

30. I want to meet Bill Murray and have him announce publicly that I am one of his dearest friends.

Care to share?

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

8 Boys, Girls, Men and Women From The North Country

JERRY

Jerry was 62, which wasn't old. At least, he didn't think so. But it was old compared to when he was 22, which he still thought he was until the doctor sat him down in a small blue room at 61 and told him the bad news.

He had weeks left on this planet, and he knew it. He had so few joys left come the end. The main one was the visits from his daughter Mandy with his Granddaughter, Ellen. The other, was listening to Bob Dylan's 'Girl From The North Country' repeatedly. He'd always been struck by how beautiful the song was. As death knocked on his door, the meaning changed. It amplified.

"I'm a wonderin' if she remembers me at all." That lined killed him then, and it was literally killing him now. His time was up --- and she could be absolutely anywhere. Did she remember him? Did she think about him at all? "She was once a true love of mine," he thought. On his deathbed, he realised that life is not a romantic comedy. He also realised that it's not because life is harsh, but because he never told her how much he loved her.

ELLEN

Her 14th birthday was not a great one. Jerry, whom she loved more than anything, was gone. She hid in her bedroom -- refusing to talk to anyone. She had secretly stolen his CD collection from the hospital. She was desperate to find that song that he kept listening to again and again. She needed to hear it, it was the only way to be closer to him.

When she found it, she recognised it immediately. It sounded like life itself. The opening lines -- "Well, if you’re travelin’ in the north country fair, where the winds hit heavy on the borderline" -- they sounded like heaven to her. She didn't know what the North Country Fair was, but it was where she imagined Jerry being.

She put it on a CD for Thomas. He'd ignored her last two CD's, but now she understood: boys don't want to hear lots of love songs, it freaks them out. She decided, with this CD, to keep it cool. The boys at school had been teaching her all about indie music, so this time she felt a lot more confident and in the loop. She knew that, if he gave it a chance, he'd listen to it. She just hoped he made it as far as 'Girl From The North Country', because then he'd know who she really was.

THOMAS

Ellen handed him the CD and he said "thank you", awkwardly. Why she kept giving him music, he didn't know. And it always sucked. Why was she always pestering him? He didn't have a clue.

When he got home from school, he put on the CD. The tracks flew by - it was a mixture of cool and predictable indie rock songs that Thomas was barely paying attention to. He was too busy messaging Jennie Fendell on Facebook, asking about her bra size.

And then 'Girl From The North Country' came on. "What the fuck is this shit?" Thomas screamed. He took out the CD and threw it across the room.

MAGGIE

Dear Diary,

I was looking for my shoes, the ones that go with my pink dress. They were, of course, in my brother's room. It's not that he likes wearing girls shoes (at least I don't think so), but that my Mother has a bad habit of putting shoes in only the wrong places.

The shoes happened to be place on top of a CD, which had a lovely drawing on it -- which I think was done by his girlfriend, Ellen. He doesn't admit that he has a girlfriend but I think he does. She always looks at him really funny and I think the way she looks at him means she loves him. It's like the look the girls gives the boys in the movies just before they end. You know that look?

Anyway, the reason I am writing to you is that I discovered a song! It's called 'Girl From The North Country' and I am almost completely sure it was written ABOUT ME! The first time I heard it, I cried for seven whole minutes and at least nearly all of the tears ended up on my shoes.

My parents love me, but they don't understand anything about me! Bob Dylan does. If you don't believe me, listen to the song. I want to be in love with him but I just looked at a picture of him and he is a ugly and probably a bit old. But I think maybe he could afford to buy me a lot of shoes.

If you don't mind me being completely honest with you: I am almost always completely depressed and alone. But this song makes me feel understood. It feels like he's singing about the world I dream about.

Love, 
Maggie 
(Girl From The North Country)

YUUSUF

Yuusuf was in England for the first time. The trains were big, and packed full of people who knew what they were doing. Yuusuf didn't know what he was doing. He was insecure about his English. He was great at reading it, and writing it -- he just wasn't very good at speaking.

He tried his best to fit in. He noticed a bizarre thing happening on the tube. It went like this: a man would read a newspaper, and when he was finished, he'd place it on the little space between the back of the seat and the window. And then someone else would pick up the newspaper, and begin reading it. He thought that this was lovely and kind and the exact opposite of what his brother had told him about English people on the tube.

Wanting to join in, he reached behind his head to pick up a newspaper. Unfortunately, it wasn't a newspaper. It was more like a notepad, a journal of some kind. He opened to the front page. 'Maggie's Secret Journal'. He knew immediately that it was private, and that he should not read it.

He flipped to the final page. It was a girl's diary. Some kind of love letter about a pink dress and shoes. Yuusuf was bored. But then he read the bit about her finding a song. He loved the romanticism of it. That the poor little girl thought the song had been written just for her.

He felt a strong urge to hear the song. But how? He didn't have a computer or an iPod or a CD player. He needed an internet cafe.

NAJWAN

They tried to kick Yuusuf out of the internet cafe. They thought he was trying to cause trouble. It was Najwan who saw what was really going on -- the guy was just frustrated. Najwan lent Yuusuf his headphones, and everything worked out okay.

Everything apart from the fact that Yuusuf ran out of the internet cafe while crying his eyes out. What the hell was that guy listening to?

Najwan looked at Yuusuf's screen. 'Bob Dylan - Girl From The North Country'. Interesting. He put the headphones on and had a listen. It was hard to get into, at first. This was not Najwan's type of music at all. But he kept listening.

But then a line GOT him. "Please see if she has a coat so warm, to keep her from a howlin' wind."

Then he found another version on YouTube, it was Bob Dylan with Johnny Cash. And that line hit home even more. "Please see for me if she's wearing a coat so warm, to keep her from the howlin' wind." It reminded him, of course, of Haneen, his beautiful ex-girlfriend. He couldn't handle the break-up, even from such great distances. The line brought home all the complexity he was feeling in his heart. He had this painful feeling that kept him awake every night. It was the feeling that Haneen was only a day or two away from meeting someone new - and that broke his heart. The anticipation, of someone else who would make sure she was staying warm -- how could he live with that?

(Drawing by Wintersnake)
TANJA

Tanja was annoyed with herself. For all of her liberal beliefs and 'love everyone' attitude; she really hated the Pakistani guy she was sharing a hostel room with. He was loud, and he insisted on having two hour phone calls in the room that always coincided with when she was trying to read. She caught these prejudiced thoughts flying through her head and she hated herself for it. Maybe everyone is a little racist, deep down, she tried convincing herself.

But she hated that Pakistani guy.

And then one night; something unexpected happened -- Najwan decided to read, as well. Peace in room 14b! Tanja sunk into her Bill Bryson book and Najwan sunk into 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows'.

It was a perfect night. And then Najwan put on some music. Why does he have to ruin it? wondered Tanja.

And then she listened. She'd never heard anything like it. It was like an honest confessional - a bitter love letter to someone long gone. She imagined it was how Marta would sing to her. That's what was so tough about the break up -- she had no idea what Marta felt. No idea what any of it meant.

She didn't have her girlfriend, but she had this song. It was filling the gap better than anything else she'd found.

"What do you think this song is about?" asked Tanja. 
"The love of my life," said Najwan.

Tanja smiled. She had the feeling she had just found a soulmate.

SARAH

"She's amazing. You have to come to the gig," typed Caren.

Sarah knew she would have to go. Caren was good at not really giving her a choice. It would be yet another average gig by an over-hyped singer song-writer. BORING!

The hype surrounding Tanja De Vries was bordering hysterical. Hysterical, at least, within their social circles. Sarah was comforted by the fact that even if the three song set sucked, at least the performance was in a book shop, which is Sarah's favourite place to be.

It didn't take long for Sarah to admit the truth: this girl was good. The first two songs were original compositions, 'Me Hidden Under Me' and 'Truthful Lies' - and they were beautiful.

"I'm going to end with a cover," said Tanja. "This is for anyone who's ever lost a true love who is no longer their true love but who is actually still completely their true love."

It was a solo acoustic rendition of a song that Sarah knew very well. She never liked it all that much -- but Tanja was reinventing it, making it her own. Tears began rolling down her face. How could one song capture everything about life?

She thought about everything she'd lost. Everyone who was gone. Everyone who meant something to her that she'd allowed to walk out.

'See for me if she is wearing a coat that is warm, to keep her from the howling wind'. What a beautiful line. She couldn't help but think of her husband, wherever he was. She was comforted by the fact that, whatever woman he was with now, he was probably too selfish to make sure she had a coat to wear.

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