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Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Embrace The New Entertainment Landscape or Die

I grew up wanting to write and direct films. I'd hide away in my bedroom night after night watching every film I could find. Hollywood films, European films, anything and everything. I found what I loved and I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and it's informed everything I've done since.

But if that sounds like an inspiring sentence, it isn't, because I did the wrong thing. I fell in love with a concept; with the two hour movie being king.

But it's nearly 2015. People like YouTube. They like interactivity. They like games. They like multi-tasking. They like short bursts of six second Vines and they like thirteen hour Netflix seasons.

It's not that nobody likes movies anymore, it's just that they don't shape or inform our society like they used to. The marketers pretend that 'Gone Girl' is a cultural phenomenon, but it doesn't even make a dent.

The generation that came before me gets to continue making movies. Spielberg doesn't need to change. Tom Hanks can keep being Tom Hanks.


"You got here just in time for the death rattle, last gasp, last grope."
-Lester Bangs in 'Almost Famous' 


And the teenagers coming up now, they have an instinct me and my peers just don't have. They're plugged right into the social media paradigm and they have millions of subscribers. They know what they're doing.

And the ones in the middle only make it when they admit to themselves that the game has changed! There's new rules now. You can't be static. You can't just make a lump of a project and expect eyes to land on it.

But technology is only half the battle.

"You're coming along at a very dangerous time for rock n' roll. The war is over, they won."
-Lester Bangs in 'Almost Famous'. 

Hollywood became an industry that champions the dollar. Sure, it was always a business, but somehow art still crept through. But now you find that even an upcoming independent director in LA is more than likely to want to make a film by committee, to give 'notes' and to try to develop something 'marketable'.

And when everyone is chasing marketable, art dies.

Reminds me of a blog I wrote about Ben Stiller's 'The Watch' back in 2012. It was called 'Most Movies Are Made Just To Give People Something To Do'.

And this is what Hollywood does. Makes broadly generic films to appeal to pre-determined demographics. If Star A guarantees pre-sales in India and Star B guarantees huge press in China, then Star A and Star B get cast. And if the entire continent of Europe keeps going to see action movies, then that same action movie will keep getting made, and it'll star A and B.

The best writers bled to TV. And the next Spielberg is probably making Christmas adverts for Honda and McDonalds because that's where the work is.

And for those who stood their ground and stayed with the two hour movies, they're beginning to wake up and realise, there's no-one here. The audiences upped and left and so did most of the creative talent. There is more innovation in some kid from Detroit's 6 second Vine than there is on our movie screens.

My domain was always feature films. But in recent years, I've felt my passion dwindling. Not my passion to create, it's always been there and I hope always will be. But instead of looking around and embracing the great opportunities that technology bring, I've been clinging on to that me that hid away as a kid, watching movie after movie in my room.

Well that kid needs to go outside and learn how to Vine, otherwise I'll be forever left behind.

Care to share?

Monday, 14 July 2014

Palisades Park on a Sunday Morning in July

"Lovely sometimes changes us, sometimes not."

What is the definition of a movie? What is a music video? In fact, what is a song? For years we've been force fed art in a particular way. A movie in a bloated two and a half hours in an over-expensive cinema, and a song in a committee-written, scientifically-proven concoction ready-made for the charts.

But the internet has blown things wide open. Nobody even knows how to distribute and promote anymore. And sure, you can push a track on me through advertising, but it just doesn't get through to me in the same way. 

I found this new video by accident, only five days after the band published it. 



Here's what happened. Neil Young had just played a gig in London. I turned down a ticket to do something else instead, but checked the setlists to see what I'd missed. Then I looked at some of his other tour dates, just to see what he'd played. Then I took a look at what Pearl Jam had been up to during their recent concerts.

And then I checked in on my favourite band, Counting Crows. They're touring and they're playing all these tracks I'd never heard of. So naturally I wanted to hear them. The new album comes out in September but I just can't WAIT!

So I looked up the song 'Palisades Park' and this video come up. An official release. The music video for 'Palisades Park' and it's nearly 10 minutes long.

And this might just be the most beautiful movie I've seen in some time. Or music video. Whatever you call it. I don't know. I don't really care. It's a story, that's what matters.


But just listen to that opening trumpet - it makes you dream. And then you see the guys sprinting through the streets, running from police and having the time of their lives and it reminds you of every great thing you ever did.

I'm always attracted to nostalgia. What is it about amusement parks that connects to your soul somehow? Something about rollercoasters and rides that I just connect with. This video has shades of Adventureland, which makes me love it even more.

Bill Fishman wrote and directed the video. how much input did the band have? I've no idea. Fascinating though. The song tells its own story, Adam Duritz's songwriting and voice are both always so evocative. And the sounds of the band are so deep and layered it's unlike virtually anyone in music, as creative and heartbreaking as the E Street Band.

Does the video tell the same story as the song, or is it just an interpretation? Who knows. Will the video mean the same to you as it does to me? Probably not, because I don't even know what it means to me.



It's easy to bemoan the changing of films and distribution, or to bitch about the death of great music. But real art is out there. Like Richard Linklater secretly making a movie over 12 years about a boy growing up -- who saw that one coming? Counting Crows and Bill Fishman have delivered a piece of art which, at the time of writing has close to 300,000 views. That's nothing in the modern day of mad viral hits - but for a piece of non-attention grabbing, thoughtful-art, it's a hit to me and it'll be a hit for you. Put ten minutes aside and enjoy a beautiful song-film-musicvideo-thing.

Care to share?

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Dito Montiel's 'BOULEVARD' - A Review

It's 2.00am and I'm exhausted but I need to tell you about this film I just saw at the Tribeca Film Festival

I was excited about Robin Williams returning to television with 'The Crazy Ones', but could never quite get into that show. And the world is currently buzzing about the prospect of a 'Mrs Doubtfire' sequel, but if you really want to see Robin Williams excel, you need to see him in 'Boulevard'.


Dito Montiel's debut feature, 'A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints' was about youthful energy, exuberance and pain. 'Boulevard' feels like what comes years later, when you wake up 60 years old and realise you've closed your eyes for all of your life. 

Robin Williams is so heartbreaking in this movie. In real life he's manic and hilarious, but he's also a very deep guy who's had many troubles. It's in all too rare roles like this where his complexity really shines. 

And not through any big acting moments. It's all in the subtlety. It's all in his eyes. And Montiel is wise enough as a director to just get out of the way - to let his actors steal the scenes.

The first person I ever interviewed on this blog was Jake Pushinsky, who has edited all of Montiel's movies. When we first got in touch he'd only cut a handful of movies, now he's a seasoned pro and this is some of his best work yet. I feel like making movies is much like managing a sports team. It's tempting to go out and sign new people every year, but the best results come when you find the players who suit your system, and build a team around them.

Robin Williams excels in this because of the directing and because of the editing. And the music - wow. The music is hypnotic. It draws you into the world of the movie to the point where you feel you're sitting in the room with the actors. Credit again to more of the director's long term collaborators, David Wittman and Jimmy Haun. Wittman's music in particular I have always loved -- he creates these melancholy, tender pieces, that permeate through the most important scenes in all of Dito's projects. 

I just love it when a movie clicks. When it all feels like it's in the right place. It's precisely what I felt didn't happen with Montiel's previous film, 'Empire State' - which is the only film of his I've not enjoyed. But with 'Boulevard', it all comes together wonderfully. Here are some highlights: 

KATHY BAKER - You could be forgiven for thinking she's just sleepwalking through this film. But then towards the end, during a confrontation with Nolan (Williams) she let's it all out. But not in some over-the-top-way. When I say she let's it all out; I'm overstating it, because she also holds a lot in. We see a woman who has made compromises, and who has secrets of her own. Baker nails it. 

ROBERTO AGUIRE - Had never heard of him before. Plays one the main characters in the movie. We always feel there's more to him and his background than is being let on. Credit to Aguire for his convincing turn as the difficult and troubled Leo. 

BOB ODENKIRK - Quietly hilarious throughout. Full of subtlety. (I realise I'm overusing the word subtlety in this review, but that's just how it's going to have to be).

ELEONORE HENDRICKS  - Another example of the filmmaker's loyalty. He's cast Hendricks time and again; and the difference between her in 'Saints' and her in 'Boulevard' shows her acting talent. 

ANGELA MESSINA - Great production design. Helps Robin Williams's character come to life among the drudgery of his bland home and cramped workspace. 

DOUGLAS SOESBE - The writer. Crafted a great story; unusual and deceptively slow-paced. A screenwriter whose tale is perfectly suited to the style of the director. 

I have purposefully not said much about the plot of the movie, because I'd love it if you were as surprised as I was. What should I tell you? Nolan Mack (Robin Williams) is a regular guy, with a regular job. He doesn't have a breakdown or anything. He just gets offered a promotion, and his wife wants to go on a cruise. As the prospect of getting even more trapped in a life that doesn't resonate with who he is dawns, mixed with his Dad being close to death; he faces up to the difficult truth of who he really is. 

This is a great movie that fulfills the promise Dito Montiel showed with 'A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints'. That movie was bursting with overt creativity and an onslaught of ideas. 'Boulevard' is more restrained, refined even. This is Dito Montiel but it's him ten years later. 

My favourite scene is a scene between Robin Williams and his father. It's a beautifully crafted scene that brings together all the things I've been talking about; delicate editing, nuanced music and the best acting Williams has done in decades. I can't tell you the content of the scene, because it would ruin the power of it when you see it. I'll refer to it as the 'beach' scene and those who have seen it will know what I'm talking about. Interestingly this scene was cut out of the movie until two weeks before the release. I talked to Douglas Soesbe, the writer; and he said it was partly his fault. The scene as written appeared earlier in the film, which took out a lot of the dramatic tension. For that reason, it was cut out -- only to reappear finally, later on in the edit. I'm glad it's back in, because the scene is incredibly moving. 

How well 'Boulevard' will do when released, only time will tell. I think it's more accessible than many of Montiel's recent films, including 'Son Of No-One' which was seen by absolutely no-one (but I loved it). Dito is a real artist and I'm glad that he's in the system making films, and with big talent like Robin Williams, too. Long may it continue, I can't wait to see what's next. 

Care to share?

Saturday, 19 April 2014

WOODY ALLEN In FADING GIGOLO

What a fun film! We get to see Woody Allen being Woody Allen.


My favourite film of his is 'Manhattan Murder Mystery', because it's just so darn funny. The jokes fall out of his mouth like a breeze and you don't even realise he's making a joke until you notice that you are in absolute hysterics.

But Woody tends to hide from the fact he's one of the funniest people alive. He goes for complexity. That's fine, he's good at it, but things are really GOLD when he just goes for FUNNY.

'Fading Gigolo' is not a great movie. But every time Woody is on screen, things just lighten up. His facial expressions, his delivery, no-one can do what he does. No one at all. Incredible.

It just so happened that the screening I attended was full of people in their 60's and 70's. These were clearly Woody Allen fans. Like me, they know his humour, they know his work. And I think that's the key to appreciating Woody Allen,  it helps to know the work he's done in the past. It gives you an affection for his on screen persona. Things are funny because you feel like you know his characters and what they're going through.

In the early 2000's Woody decided he wasn't going to act as much any more. You can understand why; he's getting old and writing and directing is enough of a challenge. So it's down to people like John Turturro to get Woody on the screen in the way we like to see him.

'FADING GIGOLO' is a sweet and unusual film. It risks running out of steam on numerous occasions, but just about holds on to you due to its kind heart and great acting performances. If you're a Woody Allen fan, you just HAVE to see it. It's Woody doing the funny in a way we've not seen in years! Here's the trailer:

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Sunday, 13 April 2014

A FRAGILE TRUST

It's 7pm and I have no plans for the evening. So I look up what movies are playing. See a documentary I'm intrigued by, 'A Fragile Trust: Plagiarism, Power, and Jayson Blair at the New York Times.' It's starting at 7.30pm at the Quad so I jump on the Q train and head into Manhattan.


Just as the movie's starting I leave my seat near the front and head to the back, because this couple down the front just won't shut their mouths.

The film stops after three minutes and the screen goes black. A woman next to me says, "they're gonna fix the sync right?" and an older Jewish guy down the front deadpans, "it's over?"


We sit for five minutes then the movie starts up again. And it's exactly the type of documentary I'm intrigued by. It's about Jayson Blair, the infamous New York Times journalist who fabricated most of his stories. He made up quotes, he wrote about places he'd never been to and people he'd never met. These were front page NY Times stories.



It's like the recent doc 'The Armstrong Lie', you sit there in awe of Lance Armstrong, how did he have the balls? Jayson Blair was different, it was just as hard to fabricate as it was to tell the truth. He wasn't just taking himself down but he was corrupting the hierarchy of the Times too.

Jayson Blair is a fascinating subject. But the documentary frustrated me at times because it was so content to sit on the fence. In one moment it's carefully and hilariously detailing the incredible deceit, and the next we're seeing Jayson blame it all on drugs, alcohol and mental illness. The film spends the bulk of it's time jittering back and forth between condemning the guy and offering up his excuses, never once daring to have a thought of its own.


The film ends and the director and her publicist are there for a Q&A, I didn't even know this was happening. 


There are 16 of us in the audience. The old Jewish guy offers up some questions along with various witty quips. The guy across the isle is one of the ones I've moved away from due to the chattering. Turns out he works for the New York Times himself.


We spent what must have been an hour in a fascinating and intimate question and answer session. It was full of opinion and conflict in a way the film itself so carefully avoided. Fair play to the director, Samantha Grant, she wanted the film to evoke discussion, which it did. And the old Jewish guy is clashing with the authoritative and condescending tone of the NY Times reporter, who amusingly calls his employer a 'smug' organisation without realising the word perfectly describes himself, too. Ain't that ironic!


I'm in the midst of a wonderful event. An engaged audience that cares about the topics at hand: journalism and ethics. People think the important audiences are the ones with paparazzi and red carpets, but the real joy of cinema is when a handful of strangers come together on the Lower East Side to discuss a documentary.


I leave the cinema and I hear the Jewish guy talking to the NY Times guy. He says, "I'm a documentary filmmaker too", and I could swear he says, "my name is Irving Fields". I know that name?


I Google him. Irving Fields is a 97 year old pianist. Is that who this Jewish guy was? Surely he wasn't that old? Maybe this guy is making a documentary about Fields. I probably just heard things wrong.


Who knows.


Who knows anything? That's what I take from 'A Fragile Trust' and that's what I took from 'The Armstrong Lie'. Some people cheat. Some people get caught. In the end, what price did these individuals pay? I guess that's what most interests me. Apparently, Jayson Blair now works as a life coach. What? I wish the documentary had delved into that side of things, to really see where this guy is now. Deception is one thing. Getting caught is another. But the important thing is, what happens after? 



I remember watching a documentary years ago about Auschwitz. It was horrifying; and you clamber to make sense of it all, to grasp where the fairness is in everything. At the end, there was a stat; it said that 7200 people worked at Auschwitz concentration camp during war-time, and of those 7200 only 15% ever stood trial for their crimes. 

HUH? 

We are taught to be good people, to stand up straight, play by the rules, and for the most part, we do. These documentaries show the flip side of that - they show people who don't play by the rules. What makes them interesting is that their subjects all kind of get away with it. Sure, they're found out, but so what? If Jayson or Lance or the Nazis can live with themselves, then they haven't really suffered. We need a documentary about THAT.

Care to share?

Saturday, 29 March 2014

We Make Art Because

What else is there? 

We make art because everything else is temporary. 

We make art because it's hard. 

We make art because sometimes we can create something that is better than ourselves. 

We make art because we want to impress people.

We make art because we don't care what anyone thinks. 

We make art because of that empty feeling. 

We make art because it fills us up.

We make art because it impresses the opposite sex.

We make art despite the fact the opposite sex couldn't care less. 

We make art to capture these things we feel.

We make art to remember. 

We make art to forget. 

We make art for the people who loved us. 

We make art for the people who were never around. 

We make art because YEAH YES THAT FEELING THAT FEELING THAT YOU GET WHEN YOU MAKE ART. 

We make art because it helps the world make a little more sense. 

We make art because we don't understand a thing that is going on. 

We make art for other people. 

We make art for ourselves. 

We make art. 

Care to share?

Monday, 10 February 2014

Right Now

When someone dies, you look back at the text messages, the emails, the tweets, the everything. You get wrapped up in this fight to find out -- did you get it right? Did you respond to messages? Did you initiate messages? Did you turn up or did you constantly reschedule?

When it comes down to it, all that matters are the things that mattered -- and you either succeeded or you failed.

And if you failed, you failed. It happens. Life is busy and work is hard and you gotta do what you gotta do, but a feeling will always eat away at you.

But if you passed, it fills you up with a good feeling. Because despite everything you lost, you're comforted by all you found, everything you was present for.

We have this habit of thinking we'll be better further down the line. When we have more time, or more money, or less stress, it'll be easier to make time, to see loved ones, to find space for those people you cherish.

But that time is undoubtedly this very second. Whoever you're thinking about right now, if they were gone, how would you feel? Did you give that person the right amount of your time? Did you appreciate them for who they are? Did you know the problems they're going through or was you far too focused on yourself?

If your answers are mostly no's, then you only have yourself to blame. Take comfort in the fact that, so far as you know, they're still breathing. You can be a better you.

Little else matters. We can chase money, careers and beaches but ultimately, there's someone out there you love who isn't feeling it right now. And that's because either they're a draining nuisance you need to cut loose from or, more likely, they're gold and you're lazy.

Next month won't do, next week might not even come. You will be taught this lesson eventually, but in the harshest of ways. Instead, be a better you, and start right this moment.

Care to share?

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Conversation with a Ghost

Suddenly, floating into my head, came the lyrics 'where have you been have you been to the races' and 'is your sister in braces' -- and I felt the urge to listen to the song again. 

Only problem was - I had no idea what the track was or who sang it (sung it? someone please teach me English), just a memory of that part of a song, about going to the races and the sister in braces. I wasn't even sure if I had the lyrics right. 

So I googled it. 

And there it was. The song 'Conversation with a Ghost' by Ellis Paul. 

But I thought the only song I knew of his was 'The World Ain't Slowing Down', but I KNEW this song! I vaguely vaguely recognized the title 'Conversation with a Ghost' -- was it the Ellis Paul version I knew, or a cover version? 

I'm not sure, but I think I knew it as an Ellis Paul version but maybe as an acoustic version I got from napster or some place back in the day. I have no idea. 

But I do know I haven't heard this song in years, maybe ten years. 

Yet the lyrics flowed into my mind today. It was so familiar, as if it's a song I listen to all the time. 

Except that it's not. I didn't remember that I remembered this song. If you'd said to me yesterday, 'do you know the song 'Conversation with a Ghost' by Ellis Paul? I'd probably have said no. Or maybe there would be some vague vague vague recollection. 

And now I've listened to the song five times in a row. I'm not really sure what it's about, or what it means to me - but it's right there in my mind, and all because it came swimming back to me for a hello after so many years at sea.  

I don't know much about Ellis Paul. I don't know what kind of career he has, or even if he's making a living from it (people like me potentially discovering him on Napster probably didn't help). But his music reached me somehow, through the silence of a Sunday afternoon, by flowing into my mind a decade after I last heard it. There's something magic about that - and it's a credit to Ellis for creating such a great track. 


Care to share?

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Social Media Basics

1. You have to be authentic. Be yourself. Everybody is being marketed at all the time, but now with so many choices, people look for what's real.

2. You have to be specific. Nobody wants to hire someone who can do everything, they want someone who can do one thing really well.

And you need to be able to prove it. Everyone speaks a good game, but how is your track record? 

3. Blog. Give away your expertise. How do people know to trust you? When you give everything away. Your unique insight makes you appealing.

4. Don't register a 'Facebook Page', we were duped! We thought it was a way to build an audience, but it's not. If you have 1000 'fans' on your Facebook page, only around 30 of them will see your posts. If a social media guru is telling you to get a Facebook Page, they're not a guru at all.

Facebook gave us the Pages function for free but then took away everything they're good for. Now you have to pay to reach your own 'fans' through promoted posts. 

5. Don't be automated. If I'm getting the same tweets or emails as other people, I know you're not giving me any of your personal time. So why should I give you mine?

6. It's too easy to be against a new platform. Most people waste years berating Google+, Instagram and Vine, and then... they join them.

7. Don't read too much into the numbers. Someone may not have many Twitter followers, but maybe the 50 people who do follow them are industry insiders. Likewise, they could have 30,000 Instagram followers, but none of them are paying attention. The numbers rarely mean what you think they mean. 

8. Nobody is listening on Twitter. You can have a million followers, but they probably won't care about your latest project. People are reluctant to click through. And it's virtually impossible to know what your followers want.

9. Quit while you're behind. If no-one is interested in your project or product, quit badgering them. Make a better product. Get better at your art. 

10. Don't waste your time trying to go viral. If you can't make something that connects with 10 people, how will you connect with 10 million?

Greatness spreads. If your content isn't being shared, it isn't good enough. Period.

Care to share?

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

ABOUT TIME

Have you seen the latest Richard Curtis movie, 'About Time'? It's beautiful. It got slagged off in the press a fair bit. I remember skimming through some bad reviews and also a piece in The Guardian or somewhere where some feminist was annoyed that Rachel McAdams was in another time-travel movie where she didn't get to time travel, or something like that.

It's a wonderful movie. Richard Curtis movies usually are. Especially when his movies are about the human heart. I can understand why he's tried other stuff, it's that syndrome all great artists have; where they want to be seen for something other than what they are. But what Richard Curtis is, is a master of showing us how we love each other. He reminds us how important it is. You think we'd know that right? But watching 'About Time' I was reminded of how much I love my family, and of how much I haven't taken risks with the opposite sex in about a million years because I've been focusing on work and a whole bunch of other excuses too much.

And that seems a personal thing to share but then, if we're not sharing something personal then what are we sharing? What's the point?


'About Time' begins with an instrumental version of 'The Luckiest' by Ben Folds, one of my all time favourite songs. And it ends on the proper song. Strange for me because 'The Luckiest' has a big personal history for me. I once did a video-footage compilation for a girl, with 'The Luckiest' playing over the top. It was a video of all our time together; the clips of us laughing and being silly and me thinking I was, y'know 'The Luckiest'.

Turns out I was dillusional. In a cloud. She was not deserving of this song at all. But because of that and a few other things along the way, I stopped being a guy who tried. Stopped putting myself into positions where, come the end of the day, 'The Luckiest' might be a fitting song for where we were at. I just closed off, focused on the other stuff.

But what else is there? You can achieve everything you want to achieve with your career, or earning money, but where does that leave you? Your money doesn't give you a hug at the end of a shit week and your career won't make you a tea when you're old.

This film reminded me that my grandparents (the ones that are left), won't be around forever. Neither will my parents or my siblings or me or my friends. The days dash by again and again and every moment is gone gone gone forever.

I'm so often guilting of just WAITING. Ever done that? Wait for things to happen. Wait for the film idea to come. Wait for the girl to text back. Wait for the shit friend to be a good friend. Passively ignoring the good and waiting on the bad. And where does it leave you?

Richard Curtis fascinates me. I tried writing to him once, I got an impersonal response from an assistant. And a friend of mine sent him some short films, they were returned with a letter saying Richard wouldn't watch them. And I saw him give a talk once - he was so removed from the realities of the industry, of the struggle, of all that. It's weird how your interactions with your artistic heroes are so disappointing. But then why do we try so hard to reach them? I had an interview scheduled with Stephen Merchant for this blog. He pushed it back for a year. It got delayed and delayed until, you guessed it, the release of his TV show. He answered it along with all the other press, through his assistant, I never got that personal connection (here's the interview, it's not one of my best).

I'm on a tangent now. I guess my point is: the great artists, their kindness is in their work. Curtis has given us important gifts like 'Four Weddings and a Funeral', 'Notting Hill' and 'Love, Actually'. Why should I want MORE from him? He's given so much. 'About Time' is the best film I've seen in ages. I know you disagree with that choice of 'best film in ages', but who gives a shit? It resonated. That's all that matters.

The things that resonate. The movies. The people. The connections. We are so good at pushing those aside. Why am I generalising? I am so good at pushing those things aside.

'About Time' reminded me to be human. It reminded me to be me. To be awake. To partake. 

"Next door there's an old man,    
Who lived to his nineties and one day,
Passed away, in his sleep.     
And his wife, she stayed for a couple of days,
And passed away.      
I'm sorry, I know that's a strange way to tell you,
That I know we belong."

Care to share?

Sunday, 5 January 2014

JENNA ELFMAN Interview

I love Jenna Elfman. What an amazing actress! She's typically described as energetic, funny and quirky, and while she is all of those things, it's important to not dismiss the fact that this is an extremely hard-working and talented actress (and mother of 2!) at the absolute top of her craft. 

Like many of the characters she has portrayed, Jenna is an breath of fresh air, even when doing an interview by email in the midst of a hectic work schedule. 

Jenna is one of my favourite actors, and to get the chance to ask her questions was a blast. Here goes. 



How's it going? What are you working on? 

It's going great! Just finished filming the movie Big Stone Gap with Ashley Judd, Whoopi Goldberg, Patrick Wilson, Jane Krakowski and John Benjamin Hickey.  Now I'm busy filming a new comedy series for NBC called Growing Up Fisher, with J.K. Simmons.

Busy as always! I first got to know you, as I'm sure many did, through the wonderful 'Dharma and Greg', but you were acting for a long time before that. What were some of the most important moments for you in your career in the years leading up to Dharma?  

The TV show I was on right before I got Dharma and Greg, which was an ABC comedy called Townies, which starred Molly Ringwald, Lauren Graham and myself. It only lasted one season, but was my first series regular role and and because of it, I got to be able to have Dharma and Greg created for me.



You've zig-zagged between TV and film over the years -- when you were starting out, movies were the cool place to be, now, arguably, it's TV. How have things changed for you personally? 

The shift in the entertainment industry and media platforms for entertainment over the last 10-15 years has been mega and it's still calibrating and finding itself.  So, for me as an actress, I've had to also be creative to keep relevant and on top of all the possibilities and adjustments in my own industry.

I love your podcast. That's a form that has really taken off in recent years. What do you get from podcasting that you don't get from your other work? 

Thanks, glad you like it! Doing our podcast is really liberating for me.  It is just my husband, Bodhi Elfman, and I sitting down and chatting about our marriage, marriage politics and funny stories from our 22 years together, unscripted and unedited.  Not careful, not conservative— just us. R-rated comedy chatter. Nothing withheld.

You can find Jenna and Bodhi's podcast on iTunes by clicking HERE

Going back to 'Dharma and Greg'; there were a lot of great sitcoms at the time, it was the days of 'Friends', 'Frasier' and so many more. I don't know what it was like in the US, but here in the UK; it had a much smaller audience, but the fans were loyal, it had a real cult following -- what is it about the show that connected with people in a way that I think is often different to those other shows? 

I think our show was truly based on joy.  Dharma was a unique character, Greg's voice was more the one of the "sensible" audience watching— and Dharma inspired people and gave them relief and let them laugh and imagine.  I think most women characters on TV at that time had been worried about love, their careers, their friends.  Dharma was not neurotic or worried.  She was genuinely happy and it was well-written, and I think it was just a burst of light into the television landscape.

I think what a lot of people love about you and your work is your great energy, your personality. I can imagine when it's late at night, you've got a headache and you're out for groceries, people want you to be the Jenna Elfman they see on TV. Do you ever find that difficult, or are you always bursting with energy?  

Well, I AM energetic, however I AM human and a working mother of 2 young, energetic boys and I'm married to Bodhi, which, if you've listened to the podcasts, well you can imagine what that's like!  (And SO GLAD I'm married to him, don't get me wrong.)  But ya, I get tired, cranky and frustrated just like anybody else.  But MOST of the time, I'm pleased with the great gifts I am fortunate to have in my life and I am grateful for all of it everyday.  Unless I'm tired and cranky.

Your career has gone through a great deal of changes - as is the same for any actor -  how do you maintain a sense of control throughout it all? 

Who said I had any sense of control?! (Bursting out laughing!) I maintain my sense of humor and that gives me tolerance for all the other craziness around me. And my husband helps me a lot, too. He's my best friend and comrade-in-chaos!

'Accidentally on Purpose' was a really fun show - it was great to see you take the lead in a sitcom format again. Like so many great shows, it didn't make it past the first season. Do you think that was just the case of networks being networks, or is there something about the show that didn't quite work?

Well, that's always hard to say- there are so many factors that go into making a show, let alone one that goes on to become a hit and many of those factors are beyond any one person's immediate control.... But I hear lots of people are enjoying it on Netflix, so that makes me happy!!

A few questions about how you go about your craft --- How are you with auditions? And how often do you have to do them compared with just getting offered a role based on your work? 

I hate auditions.  I RARELY have actually gotten hired from an audition (for films.)  All the films I got were not from auditions, but some other meeting, chance luck, offer, etc.  I used to like auditions early in my career, because I actually GOT JOBS by doing auditions.  But now that I have a career, I haven't gotten a single job from an audition.  They are a real buzz kill for me.  Argh. Need to solve that one! LOL

How do you maintain your craft? Although I of course think you are fabulous already, I always find that the top actors continue to learn and improve their craft-- I'm interested in how! 

Well, I am a people-watcher! I just always have been.  That to me, staying present in life, aware of human behavior, not removing yourself from people, but instead staying involved in the world around you, paying attention, watching how people look, carry themselves, react, dress, hide, pretend, dodge, etc. is the best acting lessons ever.  We are, as actors, playing people,  after all.

Is there anything you have not yet achieved with your career that you hope to in the coming years? 

I just want to continue to try new kinds of comedy and roles and tones that I have not explored yet.  I just want to keep expanding, in whatever , various, interesting ways that manifests itself, I'm IN!

Care to share?

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Alexandria in the Front Row

I think Alexandria's comment on my article '2014 - Don't Rush' has reminded me of what it is to be a Kid In The Front Row.

She's 16 and has a level of passion and self-awareness that most can only dream of. And even from the way she responds to a blog post, you can see that she's a talented writer.

Alex, and keep making movies. The world needs people like you.

"I'm 16 and I love movies and moviemaking and screenwriting. I guess since I'm on your blog, you get that. I've only wrote three scripts and made two shorts. Yes, they're absolute shit.

I need to learn perseverance through the years - through college, through young adulthood (and trying to make the repeated decision of taking a day job or finding a film-related meal ticket), through marriage, through life. I feel this need to rush, to make it soon, others are flying past me, while I'm out here trying to enjoy life and write too. It's difficult, yes. But is it worth it?

I don't know. In terms of my filmmaking career, if "making it" is the Olympics, I'm still stretching in 6th grade Gym class. But when I watch my favorite movies - "The Hunt", "Prisoners", "Fish Tank" - I'm filled with such an intoxicating, opportune something - I just can't give it up. But I need this fervor when I'm broke and alone, when I meet the man I want to marry, when my 53rd script is shitty and I don't know how to fix it, when I just.can't.get.this.scene.right...I need this passion, this focus, and I need to maintain it now.

I guess, all I'm saying really, is thank you. Thank you for this post, thank you for this blog, and thank you dedicating so much time in being the buoy in the ocean for all the artists who are swimming this choppy, dangerous waters called life and creativity.

Have an amazing 2014.

- Alexandria"

Care to share?

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

2014 - Don't Rush

Filmmaking is one long apprenticeship.

We all rush to sound like experts. It's like when you're at a short film screening and some 19 year old tells you how she was inspired by Godard and Tarantino, and how she wanted the camera angles to signify a metaphor about contemporary culture's relationship to technology. But then you see the film and it's terrible.

Not terrible in a 'not for me' sense but in that it's a pile of shit not meant for humans to see.

But we've all been there. In fact we still are there. Just look at most Hollywood movies.

The point is, we're still learning. We think we know it all but there's so much to it.

You need technical expertise.
You need to know what an audience wants.
You need to know how to inspire them.
You need to know marketing.
You need to know how to fix problems.

You need so many things.

Most people quit within a year of starting.
Those that carry on are more dedicated, until they fall in love and make babies.
The few that remain are in it for the long haul.

If you're in it for the long haul I'm writing this for you.

You need self awareness. You need to know that your talent needs nurturing. Artistic maturity doesn't happen right away. Most actors and directors don't do anything until their forties. And those that do it younger began when they were three.

And sure you can be a smartass and name someone who struck gold at age 22 the first time they tried acting, but I bet that person isn't your favourite actor or even close.

You get SO MUCH BETTER.

This blog was pretty popular for a while, it was clever on my part because I sounded like an expert. Then I stopped blogging because I realised: my work didn't live up to my words. (side note: I also stopped blogging because I was tired of giving opinions. Opinions are so boring, and are now much better due to being mostly condensed to 140 characters).


You can know lots about films but being able to nail it on a project is a completely different thing. And can you connect with an audience? And if you can, can you do it again and again?

My message this year is: don't rush. Don't think you need to "make it" this year. You're just an apprentice, learning the ropes. And this isn't just for newbies, it's for those who have established their careers. We're all learning how to do it better. 

Your life, or your wife, or your impatience; they may think this must be the year to be a runaway success but that's not what being an artist is.

A lot of things in your life need to click in order for everything to come together.

Don't tweet about how unfair the industry is. Read a book instead.

Don't moan about how no-one will buy your scripts. Write a better one.

When you learn about your art (reading, helping out, practising), you get SO MUCH more wisdom. Expertise is when you can stop being flummoxed by stupid things. When you don't stress about a camera breaking because you've had cameras break before and know exactly how to deal with it. It's when your acting is ruined because you're depressed about a break-up and the fact your kid is sick, but you can still put in a performance even though the director's being an egotistical asshole, too. 

You can't do these things without experience. Without the knowledge.

Don't rush ahead. Just stay patient, disciplined, and keep learning. Very few people are actually doing this.

Tweet less, practice more.
Moan less, listen more.
Spend less, buy the right books.

We've been sold this idea of instant success. People think being a writer or director or actor is like being on X Factor, they think it's about being picked. How many times has someone asked you, "has Spielberg called you yet?" This is how people think it works. That you have a bit of talent and then Spielberg picks you.

But it's really about picking yourself, and knowing how valuable you are. You get to the top of any industry by paying attention to detail. By constantly learning.

Go read Chris Hadfield's book about being an astronaut, or Alex Ferguson's book about being Manchester United manager, all the clues of success are right there.

You think Michael Schumacher won a couple of races and then was invited to race for the Scuderia? No. He worked his way up from go karts through formula 3 and onto F1. And the driving was only part of it, he also knew the history of the sport inside out, he knew about the drivers and he knew about the cars. 

You're no different. The friend you drink with down the pub may have convinced you that what you do is silly, but actually your acting or make-up artistry or directing is the big dream of your life.

Don't waste it by missing the book or failing to try out an idea or by not writing the script or taking the meeting.

Don't rush ahead. Read every page. That's how you'll get there quickest. 

Care to share?