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Saturday, 29 September 2012

Who Do They Need To Text?

Is it really how we are now, as humans, that we can't watch a movie for 93 minutes without needing to text and tweet?

Why are you going to the cinema? What are you in there for? Is it not for the experience of indulging in something entertaining, or educational or at least, something to take you away from your life for an hour or two?

Maybe I'm missing something. Maybe the whole point of going to the cinema is to text people and read Facebook news feeds, but I don't think it is. So what's the deal?

The dude next to me today at the screening of 'The Lottery of Birth', got a text message about twenty minutes into the film. It beeped loudly, of course. He took out the phone and then began texting.

Then the other person text him back.

So the guy and his distant friend continued texting again and again. Tap tap tap click click and again and again. I was lenient at first, after all, it could be an emergency. "Help!!! My house is on fire so I'm texting you!!!!!!!!", but again, I doubt it.

Tap tap click tap beeep vrrrrmmm tap tap, I couldn't take it anymore. I asked him to stop. And to be honest, the guy was nice about it. He seemed genuinely apologetic yet also completely unaware that the bright sparkly lights from his phone and the tap tap tapping could be distracting.

The phone continued to vibrate. And a few times he coughed and 'accidentally' pressed the button on his phone, enabling him to have a sneaky peak at his messages.

I understand his problem. The incoming text promises much excitement. Also, he might be newly in love and texting the girl of his dreams. Perhaps they fell in love due to a mutual love for pressing thumbs against smartphone screens.

But is this what we're becoming now? Is there any moment in daily life when we put the phones down and experience something? I'm surprised he didn't take a picture of me and tag it on Facebook, "me and anti-phone dude".

I can see how the guy who wants no distractions in the cinema annoys people as much as the distractioner himself, but I'm at a film festival! This film has three screenings in London then we may never see it in the UK again. Surely it's worth watching, worth giving yourself over to what's on screen for a couple of hours?

I see these people ignoring important moments, missing out on subtitles, half-laughing at funny bits to keep up with the audience who are laughing---- it's crazy, why not watch the movie! Of course, the knock on effect is that I miss the movie too, because I'm so caught up it what the phone-people are doing.

I've done it myself, I guess that's why I'm so sensitive to it. We all text and tweet as if it's a temporary hobby, we check texts while under the illusion that we-just-have-to-check-the-next-one-because-it's-super-interesting.

Text messages are never super interesting. They're never anything. They're just a distraction from being in the moment, from having an experience.

But this is our lives. People need to realise it's all a conspiracy, another way it which we've been numbed and dumbed. We're subservient to small black portable devices. Why are people so comfortable with becoming so insane?

You're missing movies. Missing conversations with the people in front of you. Missing the whole world while you tap tap tap vrrrrrmmmm beep. And worse than all that, you're driving me crazy!

Care to share?

THE LOTTERY OF BIRTH Review - Documentary - Raindance Film Festival 2012

My brain hurts. It hurts because of how much this movie made me think. And it hurt even more when I began trying to figure out how I would review it. 

You have to be paying attention when you watch 'The Lottery of Birth'. There's no dumbing down, no spoon feeding you. It's a film that relentlessly sets out to challenge your perceptions and view of the world. It's a documentary that takes what you think you know and shows you how you know very little. It could so easily have been pretentious, or preachy, or boring-- yet somehow, it manages to tread that line perfectly. It doesn't make you feel dumb, it makes you feel enlightened - which is exactly what you want from a documentary.

So what is it about? Don't expect me to explain; my brain still hurts too much! Let's all watch the trailer to get a feel for it: 


Depending on where you're born, you have certain privileges, certain obstacles, certain opportunities. Your outlook, your inner state, your beliefs; they're shaped by the environment you're in. And we all conform to roles almost as quickly as we're born. And school drills into us a certain way of thinking, a way of viewing other nations, a way of perceiving history. One of the most startling moments in the film is when it lists fifty nations that the USA has tried to overthrow since World War 2-- and many of them were democracies. One of the big points the film makes is that, we all feel like we're on the side of the angels. We like to believe that our nation is the one in the right, the one with great values. 'The Lottery of Birth' takes a look at how our brains are wired to think in a certain way, based on the way we've been socialised. 

This film is a wake up call. 

And the interview subjects are fascinating. The late Howard Zinn is mesmerizing; as are all the others. 

This is a documentary that, with a mere establishing shot of a London city office or a New York City street, makes you realise how brainwashed we are, how easily we allow ourselves to be obedient. I related to this documentary in a big way because it voiced a feeling I've had eating away inside of me for a long time, that I've never been able to formulate into words or coherent thoughts. It just shows you how powerful a documentary can be. It's like a switch has been turned on, the electricity is flowing -- now I can begin to look at the world in a way that I've been working my way towards without direction. 'The Lottery of Birth' is the beginning of a new way of approaching things. 

Yesterday, during a screening of 'Loveless Zoritsa' I was getting pissed off with the woman next to me who was constantly scribbling notes --- it bugged the hell out of me! But today, as I watched 'The Lottery of Birth', I wanted to be taking notes so badly! There was so much to take in, so much to learn, endless things to ponder. 

I'll need to watch this film another three times to take it all in. Problem is, when, and where? Documentaries never have a certain path. After Raindance, we don't know when we'll see it again. Luckily, the filmmakers are intent on it reaching a wide audience. They said during the Q+A that the important thing is that it gets seen, even if people can't afford cinema tickets or to purchase it on demand. How refreshing! Film distribution is changing -- and it's very likely that the producers who are open to giving their films away for free may end up being the winners. 

The important thing is that 'The Lottery of Birth' gets seen. I'm fully aware that despite my praise, this review doesn't give much detail about the content of the film. I go back to my initial words -- my brain hurts. This is a talking heads documentary that takes up more neurons in your brain than a hundred Hollywood flicks combined. Sound like hard work? It is. But it's worth it. 



I don't know when you'll get a chance to see it, but when you do, make sure you don't miss it. 

Additional Notes: The film is directed by Raoul Martinez and Joshua Van Praag, and it's the first of a four-part 'Creating Freedom' documentary project. Keep an eye on this series, because it may end up changing your life. 

Care to share?

Friday, 28 September 2012

'LOVELESS ZORITSA' (Crna Zorica) - Raindance Film Festival 2012

LOVELESS ZORITSA (Original Title: Crna Zorica) is a unique, engaging and at times, hilarious film directed by Christina Hadjicharalambous and Radoslav Pavkovic, who were both at the Apollo Cinema in Picadilly Circus tonight for the international premiere of the film.

A Serbian film, co-produced with Poland, Cyprus and Greece (with much of the post-production being done in these countries), 'Loveless Zoritsa' is one of the more bizarre and unusual films you're likely to see this year.

Many men fall in love with the beautiful Zoritsa. The only problem is -- she's cursed. Any man who loves her-- at worst, dies instantly and at best, is severely paralysed. Why does all this happen? Because when Zoritsa was born, she was the first female in her family to be born without a moustache. And to be female and born into this family without a moustache, is a bad omen. 

Sound crazy? It is, yet somehow, it works. The film is shot beautifully --- and you can't help but be swept away into the bizarre Balkan world of crazy locals and inept policemen. It's a world that could so easily have been too far fetched and unbelievable, yet luckily it keeps you compelled.

My only gripe was that the ending crossed my mind much earlier in the film, leaving things a little anti-climatic for me. Hopefully that won't be true for most viewers, but then, even if it is, there is much to enjoy about the film.

The film runs at a comfortable 80 minutes, which is just about right for a film that isn't to be taken too seriously. A light and enjoyable insight into a side of Serbian culture most of us know nothing about (a few Serbian audience members understood the movie a little better than British viewers, not that it detracted from our enjoyment), it's definitely worth seeing for its uniqueness. There's also a strong and intriguing performance from Ljuma Penov, along with a whole host of memorable faces and performances from actors who, we were told, are very famous in Serbia. But it's definitely Penov who stands out the most in a role that is far more crazy, exciting and mysterious than what Hollywood actresses usually get to play. 

'Loveless Zoritsa' is still searching for international distribution. Judging by the audience reaction at tonight's sold out premiere, it should have no problem finding an audience.

Care to share?

The 20th Raindance Film Festival Begins

Actually it began yesterday. I was out of town and my pass hadn't been arranged. But now I'm here, and I'm excited.

Everyone is here because they love great movies. You're surrounded by people who are fascinated by obscure Slovenian movies and films made for £3000 by 18 year olds. It's not that anyone has anything against superhero movies, it's just that we never have any trouble finding them.

You come to raindance because you have a genuine chance to be a part of a wonderful cinematic experience that you'll have trouble replicating anywhere else.

And of course, the cast and crew are in the audience, the families are here. You never know how things will go -- will a masterpiece play to an empty cinema? Will a piece of crap bore a packed house?

When films play in a festival, they're alive! More like a band playing a nervous gig than a solid filmic product.

So many of the films I'll be writing about over the next week and a bit will be international premieres of movies you've never heard of. And that's exciting. Those of us in attendance have the opportunity to share with you the gems that we find.

The Raindance Film Festival began in a small and humble way, and it still has that feel. The organizers are accessible, the audience down to earth and excited. Yet Raindance is at the heart of the British film industry. And in the short film categories, one film from the festival will go on to be shortlisted for an Academy Award. Isn't that exciting!? I think so.

I won't be reviewing every film I see, that's not really my thing. But I'll tell you about the best ones and probably moan about the bad ones. Outside of that, I hope to give you all an insight into what it's like at the Raindance Film Festival this year. If you happen to be in London, you can buy tickets at the Raindance Website

Care to share?

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Jack Kerouac's On The Road

It's my favourite book. And now the movie's coming out.

The magic of the book, for me, is in the language. Kerouac's use of words, his epic mystical ramblings that light up your SOUL! I've never known anything like it. The book is a big joy for me every time I read it.

And I like MY vision. The Denver in my imagination, the sweet little Marylou I picture.

I worry that, if I watch the movie, then I'll never be able to fully enjoy my vision again, what do you think?

This might seem trivial but to me, it's important! The art that we love carries us through life.  When people grow up loving Tom Hanks or John Wayne or Audrey Hepburn, it becomes a part of their identity.

And you are what you read.

And I'm not a bible reader-- instead I have books like 'On The Road' and they fill me up good. But what if I hate the film but the images stick with me? What if I can never get back the 'On The Road' that I love?

On the other hand, I'm so curious to see what they've done. To see what it looks like.

But anyway, I don't even see what's appealing about Jack Kerouac on the big screen? It was all about the words. The journey you go on in your mind. Turning his words into cinematic interpretations, no way will it be as good!

I brought this up on the Facebook page a few weeks ago, and everyone said I should go see it, but should I? How often are the adaptations great? And this isn't just a book I like, it's my favourite one! I love every darn word I come across in that thing and all the places it takes me.

I don't want to lose any of that. But at the same time, it's fascinating that they've made the movie. I'm curious to see it, I want to know what they did. But I don't want to lose my vision of it--- but I fear the experience of the movie will forever infect my imagination on future reads. What should I do?

Care to share?

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

30 Tips To Get You Writing Your Screenplay

1. Set a timer on your phone. Let's say an hour. Sit and don't do anything for that hour. Don't look at your phone again, don't turn on the TV. Don't tweet. It's just you and the chair. Don't write down ideas that come to you, don't do anything. Sit, think, dream. But no action. 

As creative people we often snap into action the second we feel we have a seed of an idea. So often, it's a false alarm, a restless brain. Take the time to sit with your ideas. If you want to write them down, tough. Not during this hour. 

2. Write a feature film in less than an hour, by outlining it scene by scene as it comes into your brain. Like this:

MARK is at the office, bored and depressed. 
SALLY is working a double shift at the cake shop. She hates it. 
MARK walks into the CAKE shop. He's depressed. SALLY tells him to buy a cake. He does so.
MARK walks out of the store, wishing he'd got her number. 
The cake shop EXPLODES. 
MARK sprints inside, he hunts for SALLY in between the flames. 

The example above is me being silly -- that wouldn't make a good film at all. But a good shortcut with writing is just to outline ideas as they come to you. To throw caution to the wind. Don't write a masterpiece, just find the next sentence. 

Before you know it, you've outlined a whole movie. If it sucks, who cares? You've lost nothing but an hour or two. If it's good? Go back to it and build from it. 

3. Write a bad script. Even if your ideas are AWFUL, or NON-EXISTENT, write it anyway. You'll learn from it. Some people spend five years writing no scripts because their ideas aren't good enough. But in fact, if you wrote 15 bad scripts in that time, you'd learn so much about yourself and your writing. 

4. Quit. Go do something else. Become a shepherd, get into a relationship with a trout. If you quit for good, then it probably wasn't for you -- but if you come back to it some day, then maybe the break is exactly what you needed. Some people write their masterpieces in their 70's. Some people have great talent, but have nothing to say. Rather than sitting in your room trying to force a script out, go volunteer in Africa. Go visit a friend in France. Anything is better than sitting around not writing

5. Be around people who make you laugh. 

6. Do things that make you uncomfortable. Just past your comfort zone is where you have the interesting experiences, and meet people that you didn't think you'd ever come across. 

7. When a friend asks you to do something that you don't want to do --- instead of making the excuse that you're tired, or have work in the morning, say 'yes' to the offer and go and do the thing you don't want to do. 

8. Work on the script that's been circling around your brain since you were 13. You know the one; the script you've been destined to write because it's so personal yet have always stayed away from because you don't have enough clarity. Attack it like you know exactly what to write. And guess what, you do know how to write it, you're just a scaredy cat. That's right. 

9. Realise your inner-critic has absolutely no jurisdiction over your life. What has it ever done? All it does is shout at you from some self-righteous position within your own brain. Tell it to go for a long walk. You can actually train yourself to listen to your inner-critic. You'll actually hear that voice in you that says, "you suck, you're a fraud, you have no talent", or maybe it's worse, maybe it says, "your parents were right, you're a waster, and your girlfriends that dumped you had the right idea too....". 

Stop and think for a minute. With that voice in your head, you'll never get any work done.

You have to understand that the inner-critic is there to save you from perceived threats, from embarrassing yourself. But when you're 89 and dead, you won't regret being embarrassed. But you will regret not writing a script because some bitch on Facebook thought you had no talent, and you'll regret not sending your script to a producer just because an inner voice said you're talentless. 

Get your act together and stop listening to that bullshit. It's nonsense. 

10. Take a moment to look around, breath; and realise that it's only screenwriting. It's make-believe, a bit of fun. 

11. If you're stuck on a particular script, then write some random scenes for fun. For example, if you're writing a tense FBI thriller; write a scene where your characters are at the zoo for no reason. When your FBI agents and detectives are taken out of their context, and find themselves at a zoo for no reason other than to look at penguins, you'll find yourself amused by them, and you'll see them in a different light. 

It doesn't have to be the zoo. It can be anywhere. Just take your characters out of the story and write a random scene for fun. 

12. Stop asking for people's opinions every five minutes. A lot of people out there will stop you from writing. Sometimes it's jealousy or competitiveness, but mostly it's because --- all people have different ideas. Writing is about having your own ideas, your own vision. EVERYONE THINKS THEY KNOW what a good story is, EVERYONE. Why? Nobody knows. But people will talk you out of anything. 

STEPHEN KING 
I want to write a story about two guys in a prison called Shawshank. It's about hope, and friendship.

BOB
I can't see how that would work.

STEPHEN KING
It'll be great. 

BOB 
No Stephen. A story needs something more interesting -- like a love interest, or maybe a conspiracy at the prison --- maybe, I know, maybe one of the inmates is a former boxer with a drug addiction who wants to join the CIA. 


This is what people are like! They're mental! They think your ideas suck. And even when they think they're good, they'll still offer suggestions! And these things throw you -- because some people can speak so authoritatively. 

Stop asking for opinions and get writing, get it done. 

13. Shut up. Sit down. Write. 

14. Write about the personal stuff. The insecurity you feel when you're around people who intimidate you, or the confidence you feel when you're doing what you love, or the heartbreaks you felt when people left you. I know that stuff is painful, but it's where the gold is. It's where you have to mine for insight. Your experiences are PERSONAL. They're YOUR OWN. But they're also universal. 

If you're not sharing who you really are, then you're not doing a good job. 

15. Get dumped. 

16. Dump someone. 

17. Dump someone. Get back with them. Dump them again. Get into an argument. Propose to them. Make them cry. Get beaten up by their family. 

All that stuff helps. Creativity comes from chaos. 

18. But you can't be your most creative in the midst of chaos. You need to find your place. Your room. Your ocean. Your garden. Wherever it is. You need to find your place where the omens are good, where the world says "Write, and be yourself!" Stop making excuses and make sure you go there to do your work. 

19. Come on, get off of Twitter. Leave Facebook alone. 

"@kidinfrontrow is five pages into my screenplay, YAY."

Who cares? No-one. Don't go for short and quick gratification. Save it for when you can say "I WROTE THE WHOLE BLOODY THING! YEAH!"

Social networks are a distraction. They have their purpose, sure, but they don't help you get into your imagination. Study after study has shown that these distractions stop us from focusing. Neuroscience has proved that we can't multitask, that it takes 25 minutes to refocus after a distraction. 

You can be the exception to the rule if you want, but instead I think you should shut out the distractions and focus on your writing. 

20. Think about dying. Will you say "I wish I had tweeted more", or maybe, "I wish I had done more browsing on the internet of a morning". Or will you wish you had spent more time on your passion, writing? 

21. Realise that your script doesn't have to be perfect. People get huge writers block due to perfectionism. Some of the most imperfect things can be perfect. The mistakes can resonate with people. Don't waste your time fearing it's not the best it can be. Just do what you can, then let go. 

22. Reconnect with an old friend. The one you haven't seen in seven years, who six months ago you emailed about catching up. There's something in those old friendships that, when you re-connect with them, they open up parts of you that you forgot about. There's something warm and exciting about rediscovering who you were and where you've come from. Again, this stuff is a Godsend, writing-wise. 

23. Read/Watch/Study your guilty pleasures. Because they're the things you really love. They hold the key to who you are and what you want to write about. 

24. Use a pen and paper. 

25. Go for a run. Do it regularly. It's good for your health, good for your memory, good for creative ideas, good in every single way. 

26. Get a pad and paper and just write. Write nonsense! Write anything. Just make sure words come out. It's like clearing out the trash --- eventually patterns will form, things will link up -- within the randomness, there'll be a message. 

27. Surround yourself with positive influences. Hang out with friends who love that you're a writer, watch YouTube videos of people who inspire you. Watch movies that you love. Have adventures with people who make you laugh. 

Writing is tough. It's hard work. It's gruelling and there will be so many things in the world that say "you're not good enough", and "you'll never make it!" You have to overcome these by yourself, but it helps to be surrounded by good people who believe in you. 

28. Figure out when you write the best. Is it early in the morning? Is it at night after everyone is asleep? Is it in the afternoon when you're fully awake? 

Think about your eating habits too. Does caffeine make you more, or less creative? Does pasta make you tired? Do you keep getting ideas after eating chocolate? 

Don't get too obsessed with this stuff, but look for patterns. 

29. Find your own voice. 

You do this by writing. A lot. 

And don't be afraid of your influences. Embrace them. You'll sound like them at first, but eventually you'll find your own way. It's all part of the journey. 

30. Realise it's a journey. A long and winding road, full of ups and downs. You have scripts you haven't written yet that will ABSOLUTELY SUCK.

But that's what it is to be a writer. 

Sometimes nobody believes in you, and your shitty writing proves them absolutely right. 

Until you get up again, write something new, and improve a little. 

Bit by bit, day by day. You keep writing. 

You keep finding your voice. 

Write, write, write. 

And enjoy it. Because, as I said, it's a journey.


Care to share?

GROUNDHOG DAY: A Masterpiece of PREMISE and CHARACTER

The reason that GROUNDHOG DAY is so funny and has lasted for so long as one of the all-time great comedies, is how intricately it is put together. The problem with most comedies is that the structure and premise are not given due attention. Writers latch on to an idea and use it as a jumping point. But the best films are built around the premise. If you set the film up in the correct way, the structure and rules don't limit you, they free you. 

The first eighteen minutes of the film are not actually particularly funny. In fact, if it wasn't for the charisma and humour of Bill Murray, it's possible you would be bored. What the opening of the film does do - is plant in the key concepts which the film will keep referring to again and again and again. 



The second time Phil Connors (Bill Murray) experiences Groundhog Day is when the film really begins to deliver the laughs. The concept is a funny one, 'what if a guy had to live the same day again and again?' --- the second walk-through of the day delivers on this joke. Most movies peak at this moment-- they have a humorous set-up, play out the joke, and then run out of ideas. It's why most rom-coms, despite sounding clever in a pitch meeting, end up being predictable run of the mill movies. 

When the audience knows the world your film is set in, you can take them anywhere, as long as it stays within the confines of the universe you've created. In 'Groundhog Day', once the audience knows that they're going to be seeing the same day again and again -- the director, Harold Ramis, was free to dive into different scenarios without needing to set them up each time. This is why your premise, and how you deliver it, has to be perfect. This is the difference between great comedy and average-to-poor comedy. It's like when I wrote recently about 'The Watch' and 'Ted' - they're lazy and hacked together. Like the writers thought "Oh, a guy can't get rid of his bear, and a bunch of neighbours protect their hometown from aliens," and thought that would be enough, but it's about so much more than that to produce a stand-out comedy.

Another thing that 'Groundhog Day' has going for it is, of course, Mr Bill Murray, in what is surely the defining performance of his career. The crazy thing about his miserable, angry character, is that we can relate to him! Despite the supernatural thing he is experiencing, of living the same day over and over, we realise that it's not too far from our own experiences. Most of us go through months and months of seeing the same people, having the same conversations, facing the same problems. Despite the ridiculous situation Connors is in, it's also surprisingly normal.


PHIL
What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?

GUY IN BAR
That about sums it up for me. 

As Phil grapples with his bizarre situation, he is plagued with concerns about the meaning of his life, or lack thereof. His concerns are specific to his situation, of living the same day again and again, yet miraculously, they are all same issues we all face, day after day. At various points in the film, Phil finds temporary freedom - through driving on train tracks, manipulating dates with Nancy, and eventually -- through killing himself. These troubling yet hilarious moments give us a great insight into Phil's character, and they also strengthen the premise. We realise, this guy really is stuck in a predicament, and nothing he does matters. You could argue that the movie has atheistic undertones--- if life is meaningless, what exactly are we meant to live for? 



The perfect construction of the film's premise allowed for so many delightful moments that wouldn't have been possible without it. A perfect example is the morning after Phil is put in jail. Despite being miserable in his repeated daily existence, he is ecstatic about being a free man again. He comes down the steps and talks to the woman from the bed-and-breakfast place. Before she can offer him coffee or ask about the weather, Connors answers all the questions, because he's heard them countless times before. This joke was set up in the opening stages of the film, and repeated throughout. Comedy is like lego, you have to build the pieces and make sure they fit together perfectly. It's also about repetition. 'Groundhog Day' is pretty much just five or six scenes being repeated again and again, but they're different each time because of the plight of the character. (If you're interested in these elements of comedy, I recommend you read my blog post about Billy Wilder and I.A. L Diamond's 'The Apartment' and also read the screenplay).

Then we have Phil Connors in the coffee house, with a plethora of cakes and pancakes and cigarettes -- throwing caution to the wind. He made the choice, which I must say is an extremely tempting one, to live a life full of eating bad food and not giving a crap about anything. Again, he is forced into this viewpoint by the premise of the film, yet it is also something we relate to in our monotonous, repetitive lives. If I eat a giant cake today, does it matter? If life is meaningless anyway, should I smoke some cigarettes and have another pancake? 

'Groundhog Day' is a fresh take on a tried and tested notion that any day could be our last, and that it's about making the most of life. To quote the title of a new film staring Dakota Fanning, "Now is good". Of course, we all know that now is good, but we need reminders. We need movies to drum it into us. 

The thing about Phil Connors is that he is so unaware. He thinks he's above the work he's doing, being forced to travel to see if a rat sees its shadow. He's dissatisfied. And he sees the repeating of each day as a punishment, as another thing he has to get through. Isn't that how we all see most of our days, as something we have to get through? So he tries to manipulate the situations, by stealing money, manipulating women to go to bed with him, killing the groundhog. 

Come the end, there's only one thing Phil hasn't tried: being genuine. Getting coffee for his colleagues, taking piano lessons, trying to save an old man's life. What makes this so powerful, much like in his miserable moments, is how strongly we relate to it. We want to be people who look out for others and follow our passions and be kind to strangers; yet we always get grumpy and delay it-- we think we'll be the great versions of ourselves tomorrow, or next week, or after a trip to Spain or whenever it is we get enough sleep.


The film asks; what would you do if you had to live the same day again and again and again? Midway through we realise, we already are living the same day again and again and again. The question is, now that you know this, what are you going to do with your life? When are you going to make an effort and put a smile on people's faces? 

Care to share?

Monday, 24 September 2012

Actress with the Sinking Eyes

She was one of those girls, drawn towards the movies because of her mixed up messed up past, all broken promises and visions of places that may or may not have existed.

Something went wrong, back then, and she never got a chance to grow in to who she was, who she wanted to be.

Acting was a chance to be someone else. To be someone else so deeply that maybe underneath it, she'd find out who she really was. There was never anyone around to tell her who to be or where to go. A childhood of guessing and hoping and seeing people wave goodbye, never to return.

Every audition, every rejection, was just like those younger times on foggy country roads that smelled of morning rain, where people waved goodbye from old cars getting ever closer to the distance.

She wanted one role. One chance to stake her claim. To show people her sinking eyes. To prove once and all that she existed. She assumed that, if she could be a movie star, she'd be so famous that someone would be able to explain who she was, and where she was meant to go.

Still she waited, ever hopeful. Everyone thought she wanted fame, but she just wanted to be accepted.

Care to share?

Favourites

Who knows why your favourites are your favourites. 

I was just watching an old episode of 'Louie'. It ended with Louie coming home from a night out. His kids wake up and walk into the lounge, sit with him, then say they wanna go out for breakfast, even though it's 4am. It cuts to them, moments later, in a cafe eating breakfast. It's just Louie and his two girls.

And I love that moment. I can't describe why. It just resonates with me. It's strangely profound and touching.

Doesn't that sound like your favourite moments? I've written over 1000 blog posts, but I'd struggle to give you 100 words about the things I love the most.

We love what we love and we have hardly any clue why.

When you're young, you think it's about taste. You think you know what's great, and everyone else is wrong, or misinformed.

But the feeling that I feel when I hear a recording of Lester Young playing saxophone is not about taste, it's about me. About who I am. Not that I could explain it.

Finding someone who likes the same films or music as you do is a wonderful thing. Why does it happen? Maybe you were both dropped on the exact same part of the head as babies, or maybe you both were brought up by your parents to watch 'Only Fools and Horses', or maybe you both had horrid break-ups and that's why you connect over Joni Mitchell.

The unfortunate thing is that we become conscious of our artistic preferences. We realise we love comedy, so stop watching horrors. We think rap music sucks, then listen only to Dave Matthews for three months. But what are tastes? They're the accumulation of previous tastes and experiences. 

The problem with this is that closely defining your 'tastes' can also kill your senses. Suddenly, everything sucks. You go around hoping for another Lester Young with a saxophone, but it's impossible. It's impossible because you don't know what you're looking for, because you don't consciously know why you love what you love.

You just love it.

A Netflix algorithm can find you a decent movie that matches your tastes, just like a dating website can probably find you another Spielberg fan, but neither of these are likely to capture your heart. There's no way to calculate what things will be favourites.

And I'm talking about REAL favourites. Like those movies you loved as a teenager, the ones that absolutely and completely explained EXACTLY who you are.

Films and music offer small clues about life. Little insights into who you are as a human being on this earth. The film reviewers won't be able to tell you if you'll connect, and the trailers will never capture the magic --- instead, it's about you. It's about where you've been, where you're at and where you're going. If you're extremely lucky, you'll see a piece of you up on the big screen. That's why we go to the movies. It's the hope for insight, for meaning, for a favourite.

When you find a favourite, it becomes a part of your personality, your DNA, you become more you. That's why we keep watching. 

Care to share?

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Cinema Is About Hearing From ALL The Voices: The Lack Of Diversity in Hollywood

If you look at the current top 10 films in the USA Box Office, they are primarily written by white American men, aged between 30-50. Out of curiosity, I looked at the stats for the same time last year, and it was exactly the same. Most movies are written by white 35 year old guys who live in LA. Even, 'The Help', a movie primarily about black people, was written and directed by a white fortysomething male. 

And I'm not meaning to start a discussion about institutional racism within the film industry. It's a much debated topic, and I don't know enough about it. I am here as an artist and as a viewer; saying: I'm pretty bored of what's coming out of Hollywood. Would more diversity, writer-wise and director-wise, not make films more interesting? 

Last night, I watched a wonderful South Korean film called "Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter.. and Spring". It's a film from 2003, about Buddhism, and the journey of a young man learning from a master. It was beautifully shot, thoroughly engaging, and completely different from what I normally watch, and indeed, totally different to my own experience of life. It reminded me of why I love cinema. At it's best, the movies can take us to places we've never been before. It can take us on unexpected journeys in unique ways. 



But just because I enjoyed it, that doesn't mean everyone who watches Ben Stiller movies would enjoy it as well. World Cinema is enjoyed by the passionate few rather than the mainstream. That's fine, but I feel there's definitely room for some cross-over. 

Most films are produced in LA. And I don't mean to claim any of those over-caffeinated 30 something white guys are undeserving of their writing credits. Indeed, they are a demographic that I am a part of -- and for their perseverance and writing skills, they deserve all of the writing gigs they've been a part of.

But everyone else deserves those opportunities too, . and we're not seeing enough from them. Do black people struggle to understand Final Draft? Are women too busy sitting at home watching the new 'Dallas' episodes? Or does Hollywood, --purposefully or not-- favour the stories of one particular demographic over others? I ask this, not as some activist for equal opportunities, but as a film fan who thinks the movies would be better if more people were invited to the party. 

If Hollywood were to re-make 'Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter... and Spring", it would almost certainly be written by a 36 year old white guy. 

Here's the pitch meeting. In Starbucks. 


JIM STEIN
So like, my idea, like, for this movie -- is that 
we have these Buddhists, and we see their 
inspiring journey. 

BILL
But we want it to be authentic. 

JIM STEIN
Yeah man. Like, I am so into Buddhism right now. 
I read 'The Secret' and I am going on a four day 
retreat next month. 

BILL
Cool.

JIM STEIN
It is cool dude. We should make the movie.

BILL
Cool.

And then the movie gets made. 

Of all the world's wisdom and intrigue; should all of our stories be coming from a select group of American dudes in LA? Isn't there more to life than that? When you think about the power of cinema - it seems strange that so much of what we see comes from a very specific demographic. It's a demographic that grew up on movies. The modern LA writer can talk to you endlessly about their inspirations and influences --- the end result? Most movies are about other movies. It's hardly a surprise that most movies coming out of Hollywood are remakes and reboots; when that's all anybody has experience in --- other movies. 

I think this is why I am spending most of my time watching foreign films right now. They're far more engaging and thoughtful. When I look at the history of cinema; so many of my favourite writers and directors came from more humble beginnings. Ernst Lubitsch, Billy Wilder, Frank Capra, Charlie Chaplin -- all emigrated to the USA; and the pain and complexity of their lives was woven into their work. Chaplin escaping poverty, Wilder escaping Nazi Germany. And THAT is what made their work so beautiful, the stories behind the stories. The sweet and the sour. 


Now we have privileged white dudes. Film school brats and Starbucks. And they're responsible for everything we see in the cinema.

Within diversity is a plethora of stories. I feel we have milked nearly every drop out of the thirtysomething-white-American experience. What else can we learn about what it is to be a human being? Could movies play a larger part in showing us? Is Hollywood even remotely interested in the world outside of Starbucks? 

Care to share?

Thursday, 13 September 2012

How To Have Authority On Set When Directing a Film

I remember it clearly, and it still kind of haunts me. The actress wanted some more direction, but she didn't look to me, the director, she looked at the actor who was standing next to me. The actor pitched in with his comments, "Yeah, you should look to the left, think about it, then shout the line as if you're really angry". 

The actress shouldn't have asked the actor what to do. 

The actor shouldn't have given her a direction.

And I shouldn't have allowed any of this to happen in the first place. 

But I was young and this happened ten years ago. Every director goes through this stage. The stage of losing control, of losing the trust of your actors, of losing your authority. Basically, it's when the actors think you don't have a clue what you're doing. 

And it hurts. 

So I'm here to tell you that you need to be confident, you need to know what you're doing, and you need to have authority. 

It's not about being dictatorial. It's about management, but more than that -- it's about creative vision. Anyone can have an idea in the room that feels great. Especially with comedy. Everybody thinks they know what is funny, there'll never be a shortage of voices chipping in, but it's of no help to you when you're in the editing room if it doesn't fit in with your vision. 

When you're making a film, it's your job, as a director, to know your characters and the story inside out.  When the actors are not quite nailing it, or they're insecure about what they're doing, they'll look to you for feedback. If you are not available to give it to them, they'll look for it elsewhere. And the worst case scenario is that the make-up artist is telling her what her character should be, or her boyfriend is giving her acting tips on the way home. When this happens, you lose your authority, you're an empty vessel.



Two years ago, I travelled across the country with the producer of my film, to read through the script with an actor who we were considering casting, and the actress who we'd already given a role to. It was going great -- and then the actor asked me a few questions about the meaning of the scene. I did what I like to do; I dreamed into the scene a little bit, allowed it to resonate with me and bring up some feelings. The producer, sitting next to me, saw what I was doing and made the assumption that I didn't have the answer. So he said, "What I think he means is, the character is really upset here, and struggling to get out his emotions." It was, of course, absolutely not what I meant to say nor did it have anything to do with the meaning of the scene. 

The problem wasn't that I didn't know what I was doing. The problem was that the producer was new to working with me and didn't know my process. I turned to the actors and said, "that's a really interesting viewpoint, but it's not what I mean at all." I then went on to explain very specifically what I wanted from the scene, and then the actors nailed it. The long journey home with the producer was rather heated as we discussed what had happened. But after that he knew not to meddle in what the actors were doing, as that wasn't his job. 

Which brings me on to an important point. We all direct in different ways. I recently wrote a screenplay for a director who loves to have ideas from all sides on the set. He loves hearing people yell out, "how about she wears a funny hat!?" or "Maybe we should film this scene with no sound!" He loves it. I am the opposite, especially with regards to the actors -- I don't want the sound guy talking to the actress about what he thinks her motivation is. There needs to be one director, that's how I work. And as I said at the beginning, it's not about being a dictator, it's about having a singular voice shaping the material. 

Take a Cameron Crowe movie. I guarantee there are moments in his films that the sound guys and the make-up artists just don't get, but then, they don't need to, because Crowe knows what he's doing. Those little subtle moments that are about a look, or a wave, or a smile. He knows what they need to be, even though everyone on the set might be thinking, "is that it?" and "do we really have it?". You'll have a lot of those moments yourself where you, as director, can see something that nobody else can see. That is what directing is, honing in on what you think is important. And when you really find something in a scene that MATTERS, it will almost certainly be the bit that half of the people on the set don't understand. At that moment, you need to be working with your actors. As long as they can grasp it, and as long as the Director of Photography knows what he's doing --- you're set. 

The title of this article is 'How To Have Authority On Set When Directing A Film'. The way to do that, is to make sure that everyone knows what you're about, how you work. If you need silence between takes so you can think, then you need to communicate that. If you need chaos, then let people know you need chaos. The set needs to be run in a way that suits your temperament. 

One of the secrets about film sets, especially when you're starting out with low-budget films, or (and especially) student films, is that everyone wants to be a director. Not only do they want to be a director, but they think they are already the greatest director in the world. The runner will want to chip in with a line change, the camera assistant will want to replace the joke about bananas with a wisecrack about apricots. You need to make sure that the people on your set are on the set to do the jobs they've been brought in to do. 

The more you direct, the easier it gets. Now, if I have a problem, I immediately deal with it by halting what we're doing and addressing the crew. Another thing that comes with experience is a reputation. When people know you can deliver, and that you have your own style, they'll be less inclined to chip in with needless ideas. And that's why I wrote this article; because you can't nail your own particular style if you get drowned out by others. There is nothing worse than losing the trust of your actors or crew on the set. It's a sinking feeling that is very hard to recover from. 

Be confident. Be strong. Make sure everyone on the set knows that you know what you're doing. 

But a few notes of caution. 

What I am talking about is artistic vision and direction, not dictatorship. If you think you know absolutely everything, you're clueless! There'll be stressful filming days when you're utterly confused. And there'll be times when it's 4am and you've been shooting for far longer than is legal, and you'll NEED the production assistant's help to remember what the character's motivation is. 

The point is to be open and transparent about what you need, as a director. It's about knowing your strengths, but it's also about knowing your weaknesses. My weakness is that I can't think on set if everyone is making small talk between takes -- my brain just can't process it. Rather than be a crazy loon who yells at everyone, I just make sure that everyone knows how I work. I have certain things that need to happen around me for me to be able to get in the zone. The more you make films, the more you'll find your own limitations and needs, and that's how you grow as a director.  

Care to share?

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Happenings in the Film Blogosphere

I gotta admit, I'm kind of jealous of all these kids on Tumblr. My blog seems so old fashioned and out of touch. Take Abby Loves Film, it's just one big board of filmic joy and passion. Scrolling through these Tumblr pages, you get a sense of the author's tastes and style; and they're far more easily digestible than traditional blogs.

And I love these little graphics that people create on Tumblr. Take this moving gif of Michael Clarke Duncan on A Sininster Looking Kid's Tumblr page;  - I love it!

But it's not all images and little notes; there's still great content. I just saw that my friend Anthony finally discovered Charlie Chaplin. Here is what it's like to discover Charlie Chaplin for the first time. I also really like Netflix + My First Amendment, which is a blog where some guy simply watches a heap of movies on Netflix, then writes about them in his own unique way.

As for more traditional blogs, here's a great one: Cinema Viewfinder. The guy's been writing for five years and always has something interesting to say. Same goes for These Glory Days; the blog's also been around for five years and always has well thought out reviews and opinions.

There are so many great writers on the internet. It's not about earning a living, or being right, it's about shared interests and passions, and I love that. As someone who makes his living in the film industry, I'm sometimes a little in awe of the people who have a more pure passion for it, they're not writing to earn money or climb a ladder. That's always been the point of this blog, too, but then again; I often pressure myself, wanting to write something that reaches bigger audiences.

But the way to truly engage people on the internet, is to put all that stuff to the side and just write with passion. That's what a bunch of bloggers did with Eternity Of Dream's blogathon about silent movies, Check it out, it's fantastic!

And while you're at it, take a look at Cinebeats. Kimberly is a fantastic writer.

Oh and you need to see I Love That Film. The content all is over the place (in a good way, like those Tumblr pages), clearly the product of the jumbled-mind of a film fanatic.

Care to share?

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Kid In The Front Row Radio: SEPTEMBER 2012

FLANAGAN & ALLEN - UNDER THE ARCHES


There are about twenty 'Flanagan & Allen' songs I'd rather share with you than this one, but I can't find them on YouTube.

Most of their recordings were from during the war, back in the 1940's, and you can hear it in the music. Some of the tracks are directly about the war -- others are about regular things, like love, but you feel the weight of the times in the recordings. Every song feels like it's being sung without knowing if the woman it's about will ever hear it, or if the character in the song will ever make it home to share his feelings.

Modern music can't compete, the stakes are too low. What's interesting about privileged people who's biggest dilemma is whether some girl will text back or not? 'Call Me Maybe'? Don't be ridiculous. We don't care.

Most music these days is a flash in the pan, but Flanagan & Allen's recordings carry history in them. Listen to a few of their tracks and I guarantee you'll be deeply moved, emotionally and physically-- you'll literally feel yourself being transported back to wartime Britain. Magical.

JOANNA WANG - NEW YORK STATE OF MIND


It's a cover of Billy Joel's 'New York State of Mind', which is risky, I know. Some songs should be left alone. But her voice resonates. And just wait until the harmonica comes in. It feels obtrusive and over the top; yet, it totally works! It gets inside of you. Adds a new dimension to the song.

THE WHO - YOU STAND BY ME


We all know how great 'The Who' are. But like all great bands, it's the lesser known tracks that are gold. 'You Stand By Me' was an album track on 2006's 'Endless Wire'. And much like 'Something Good Coming' from Tom Petty's recent 'MOJO' album; this track resonates because it has WISDOM! It's written and sung by someone who's been in and out of the ring his whole life. You feel it in the song.

The relationship he's singing about, you know it's earned it. You know it means something. The lyrics are so simple, and the performance deceptively so. But then all the best things are. A newer band would turn this track into a ballad, but with Pete Townshend it's practically an afterthought, a throwaway. I guess that's what makes it feel so real.

DAVID RUFFIN - WALK AWAY FROM LOVE


How did Motown nail it so consistently? Nobody knows. There must have been something in the water. They'd just get in the studio and start playing. So much magic. Of course, we remember the Marvin Gaye hits and the Stevie Wonder classics; but it's gems like 'Walk Away From Love' by David Ruffin which must never be forgotten!

The great thing about Motown music is how open and honest it was. It was soul music of the highest order; because it actually reached us on a gut level. It sinks into you when you listen in a way that modern music rarely does. The modern acts are too busy being cool, trying to be marketable. Motown will always have a place in my heart, there's nothing like it.

SARA BAREILLES - BASKET CASE


Sara Bareilles is awesome. 'Love Song' was the hit, but that hardly sees important now. She's an artist who quietly records and tours and just gets on with it. I first became a fan by connecting to her amazing cover versions of tracks like 'Sitting on the Dock of the Bay' (Otis Redding) and 'Sullivan Street' (Counting Crows). Now I'm getting round to her original stuff. And wow! Give it a chance. Take the time to stop what you're doing, close your eyes, and listen. Fantastic.

TYLER LYLE - ANYHOW


In a different era, maybe Tyler Lyle would be a huge star, but now he's practically unknown. But don't let that stop you: his music is something special.

Albums don't matter anymore. The only people who think they do are the oldies who still wish the world was Vinyl, and 15 year old hipsters who are bitter they missed out on the days when music mattered.

Yet... Tyler Lyle's album is magical! 'The Golden Age & The Silver Girl' is an album all about ONE GIRL! All the feelings he felt; all the stages he went through. Every track is beautiful.

'Anyhow' is a song about loving someone who doesn't love you back; but you're going to stay the course and love them anyhow until they do. "And you don't see me like I see you, but I'm gonna be here till you do".

TEA LEAF GREEN - I'VE BEEN SEEKING


Only just discovered this band: Tea Leaf Green. Loving what I'm hearing. I dig this song, 'I've Been Seeking'. I love it today and I'll love it when I wake up tomorrow, but will it last the course? That's the beautiful thing about music, you never know which tracks will stick. I hope I love this song as much in the future as much as I do right now, but there's no way of knowing for sure.

Care to share?