Monday 19 July 2010

Directing My Writing.

I have always been a writer/director. I could possibly be just a writer, but I could definitely not be just a director. How I am limits me in many ways. If you gave me a thirty second Dove commercial to direct I wouldn't really know what I'm doing, and I wouldn't really care. This means that the more lucrative side of directing is not really available to me. If Hollywood offers me the chance to direct Twilight 7, I wouldn't have a clue what I am doing and would have to say no. Although I might try and get a meeting with Kristen Stewart first..

I have a very strong understanding of my own writing, and I know how to direct it. I have known this, weirdly, since I first thought about film directing. I knew I would always write and direct. What I am good at is knowing who my characters are and being able to go into them and feel who they are. So, for example, if I have a character I've written called Vera; as a director I am able to instantly know what she is feeling, what she wants, and what her problems are, just by looking at the page for a few seconds. I can morph into my characters. However, when looking at someone else's script, I can only interpret them, and guess. They haven't funneled through me in the same way. And that's why the idea of directing someone else's writing or, indeed, just giving script feedback, is always very difficult for me. Because I don't really know what I'm doing, or what my instincts are. But with my own work, it's different.

Tellingly, my favorite films tend to be by writer/director's. This was not intentional, and in fact; for my formative years as a lover of films, I was totally unaware. The films that resonated with me were helmed by the person who'd written the material. Even when watching studio fare like 'You've Got Mail' - I would prefer those films to those which had hired in a director. And this was completely unconscious on my part. But in understanding myself and my interest in films and directing, it's quite important.

I love the idea of being a reader of books. But unfortunately, I find it very difficult - as only a handful of writers can hold my interest. If I consider buying a book, I have to read the first few pages and figure out whether the writer resonates with me. I think a lot of people do this, but for me, it is almost a chronic thing-- I generally don't read, as I am always disinterested. I'm interested in reading, but disinterested in the writers. But when I do come across a voice I can identify with, it's golden. Woody Allen, Saul Bellow, Roald Dahl, John O'Farrell, Joseph Heller, Nora Ephron, those are a few names and to be honest, there aren't many more. What their reputations or talents are isn't as important as; do I enjoy reading them? John O'Farrell, for example, is a writer of a few little novels that come and go without much ado, but for some reason - his work always tickles my funny bone. I find his voice hilarious. The same goes for Woody Allen. I've recently been intrigued by David Foster Wallace, and I am hopeful hopeful hopeful that he is going to be one of those rare writers who fascinates and inspires me. I have loved some of his articles and am about to order some books. I am hopeful.

I usually keep my written work hostage. As in, I don't want other directors use it. Is it because I think I have written untouchable masterpieces? Definitely not. The problem for me is that it's very hard to find directors who truly grasp what a writer is doing, and what they are saying. I write a lot of comedy; and comedy is one of the most delicate things in the world because when it's handled incorrectly, nobody laughs. Even worse, people think you're an idiot. It really is delicate. But it's the one thing I am certain I understand. I have had the experience very often on set where an actor feels they are not doing enough, or not being funny enough, or that they're doing too much, or that they're being too slow, or too fast, or too emotive ---- and the problem is that when doing anything other than comedy, their instincts would probably be right. But when you are servicing a joke, or a comedic set-up, or a delicately humorous moment, it's very rare that you find people who are completely in sync with the director. This is why comedies are rarely funny-- because not only do the actors struggle to grasp it, but so do the directors. That is essentially why I am drawn to direct. That's why Charlie Chaplin, Billy Wilder and Woody Allen all moved into directing-- because their work was being wrecked film after film. A typical director might think the punchline is what's funny; but a good director knows something more--- he knows what's funny is the hat sitting on the mantelpiece, or the line in the next scene about a giraffe, or the way Jack Lemmon holds his tennis racket.

My point is that, if I am not there to protect the material, it gets lost. There are director's who are more talented than me, in fact; I think I am, at best, an average director of film. My scope is small. When it comes to making a scene look appealing or exciting, I am not particularly skilled. But when it comes to what I've written, I think I can handle the material and the actor's performances better than anyone else could. Richard Curtis and Kevin Smith would probably say the same (about themselves, not about me.)

This is essentially why directors collaborate with the same actors for years and years (Allen/Keaton, Wilder/Lemmon), or why comedy actors produce their own work (Stiller, Sandler.) They need to protect the material, to know that they can control it because there is always a big risk of it being handled by people that don't understand it. Taken to extremes, it's why directors act in their own films, because nobody else can quite get that subtlety. Nobody else could do Chaplin like Chaplin. Nobody else can do Woody Allen like Woody Allen (we've seen many try.)

What all this means is that, as a writer/director, I have very few opportunities. Essentially, I need to raise financing to do my own work, because I am unwilling and unable to pass on my writing or to direct other people's - and when it comes time to sit down and rest, I can't even find a book I like. Not only that but, as a director, I am still looking for my Jack Lemmon, for my Diane Keaton; because it is those collaborations which essentially define a good writer/director; when they find actors who not only give voice to what is on the page but somehow become it.

Just so you know, I'm not moaning. All these reasons are exactly why I am a writer and why I am a director.

Care to share?

Friday 16 July 2010


If I asked you about art, you'd probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo; you know a lot about him. Life's work, political aspirations, him and The Pope, sexual orientation, the whole works right? But I'll bet you can't tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel.

You've never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling--- seen that. If I ask you about women, you'd probably give me a syllabus of your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times.... but you can't tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You're a tough kid. And I'd ask you about war, you'd probably throw Shakespeare at me, right? "Once more into the breach dear friends." But you've never been near one. You've never held your best friend's head in your lap, watched him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. I'd ask you about love, you'd probably quote me a sonnet. But you've never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone that could level you with her eyes ---- feeling like God put an angel on Earth just for you, who could rescue you from the depths of hell. And you wouldn't know what it's like to be her angel, to have that love for her be there forever, through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn't know about sleeping sitting up in the hospital room for two months, holding her hand, because the doctors could see in your eyes, that the terms "visiting hours" don't apply to you. You don't know about real loss, 'cause it only occurs when you've loved something more than you love yourself. And I doubt you've ever dared to love anybody that much.

I look at you; I don't see an intelligent, confident man. I see a cocky, scared shitless kid. But you're a genius Will. No one denies that. No one could possibly understand the depths of you. But you presume to know everything about me because you saw a painting of mine, and you ripped my fucking life apart. You're an orphan right? -- You think I know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are, because I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you? Personally... I don't give a shit about all that, because you know what, I can't learn anything from you, I can't read in some fuckin' book --- Unless you want to talk about YOU, who you are. Then I'm fascinated. I'm in. But you don't want to do that do you sport? You're terrified of what you might say.

Your move, chief.

Care to share?

Wednesday 14 July 2010

Not Coming Out To Play.

Tomorrow night I am going to see a couple of friends who are in a play. And then I am retiring permanently from going to see friends on the stage.

I find plays boring. I don't know anyone else in the industry who feels this way - everyone seems to talk a lot about 'stage and screen.' I enjoyed the play 'Blood Brothers' the first time I saw it. Aside from that, I have been utterly bored by absolutely everything I have seen on the stage. I do not like theatre. It does nothing for me. Even if it has great actors and a great story, I get completely bored.

I am friends with a lot of actors. They all act in plays. They all invite me. I feel a complete and utter disinterest every single time, yet I try to get to see many of them because I want to be a supportive friend. And to be fair - more often than not the actors are people who've been very supportive of my work.

But here's the thing. To go and see a play is, for me, a major chore. I dread the event for days, I hope and pray for a great excuse to come up. I beg and beg for the London Tube network to break to pieces only hours before the curtain is raised. Nothing.

Seeing a play in London generally means a forty-five train journey, followed by a painful couple of hours watching a play that bores me, followed by me having to wait around afterwards to tell the friend "no really, you were great, I loved it!", followed by lots of people I don't know saying "yeah, I like acting in films, do you have any roles?" followed by my friend saying "Stay for a drink, I want you to meet some actors!". Ugh, I hate it. And then I have to get another train journey home.

I like that my friends do something they're passionate about. And I like that they want me there and I also like that I can often see their great talents on the stage. But I can also see a good chef's talents in a kitchen, it doesn't mean I'm going to watch their every move for two hours. For me, going to the theatre is like being forced to watch a four hour documentary about lemonade production just because your friend Dave was the cameraman.
My friends, I love you, and I want you to succeed - but after tomorrow, I am officially retiring from coming to see you perform. But I will happily watch your film work.

Care to share?

Monday 12 July 2010

SeeFilmFirst - Paying Off Teenage Film Bloggers One Free Ticket At A Time. are a company who have recently been offering free movie tickets to film bloggers. We get the privilege of watching flicks before they come out. Just this week, they gave me a free ticket to see the re-make of 'THE KARATE KID'. Hundreds of other film bloggers were afforded the same opportunity.

Word Of Mouth is such an integral part of film marketing these days. It makes sense for a studio to want lots of people to see their movies before they officially open; because it means that by time they are on general release -- we all know lots about them. Hype, buzz, whatever you want to call it: it's likely to get more of us into the cinema and loaded up on popcorn.

The unfortunate thing is that companies like SeeFilmFirst are not just innocently giving us a chance to watch a movie for free and to blog our opinions about them. They are trying to entice us to write positive spin for their client's releases, therefore helping Sony Pictures, the distributor, make a lot of money at the box office. This works because Film Bloggers are prone to underestimating the impact of their blogs. If I write a massively positive review of 'THE KARATE KID', and 800 people read it today, it's entirely possible only a handful of those will see it. But far more of them will TALK about it. Thus, word of mouth does its magic. The other day I wrote 'The Karate Kid is surprisingly good!' on my Facebook status. A day later my brother told me that his friend had 'heard that The Karate Kid is really good!' -- when my Brother told him that I had written a status about it, the friend replied with "oh yeah, that's where I heard it!" It's as simple as that. A bit of positive feedback, and we latch onto it subconsciously - word of mouth is so powerful.

You might not think it, but film bloggers are a very powerful tool for film studios. SeeFilmFirst, in essence, act as the middle-man; hooking up the studios new releases with us little film bloggers, who are generally disgruntled film lovers who are pissed off that we don't get paid while the people writing junk in film magazines do. So when someone offers us a freebie, we jump at it. It feels great, free passes! Score!

SeeFilmFirst don't just ask for you to watch the film. They ask for you to blog about it. Not only do they want you blog about it, but they ask you to blog positively about the movie. First of all, they send you an email reminding you to write a review, otherwise you risk not getting passes to more screenings.

"Please send us links to your blogs on the film after you have posted to ensure we can keep inviting you to previews!"

I can understand that. They are giving you a chance to see a movie for free, so I can grasp why they want something in return. But then more emails come.

They offer prizes for "the review which is most likely to get the most people to go to cinema to watch The Karate Kid!" which they also refer to as a prize "for the best marketer of this film outside of Sony Pictures!"

SeeFilmFirst also actively encourage under 16's to begin blogging; showing teenagers how they can blog positively for a big corporation in order to win prizes - "Best Under 16 Reviewer:
Whether it's two lines or two pages, this award is not just for quality of review, but also how it has been shared."

Tweens are encouraged not just to write reviews that actively help films rake in millions at the box office, but they are also encouraged to share their reviews "whether its through a blog, MySpace, Facebook - whatever!"

My concern is that this is unethical and manipulative to young people. It is also concerns me that the integrity of film bloggers will be tested. It used to be that film critics would get paid off to write puff pieces, now it's a free ticket and a promise of prizes and future screenings. Being lowly film bloggers, we are more than likely to accept.

I hope you guys don't mind me going off track from my usual cheery style of blogging to focus on this. What are your thoughts. Are we likely to see film bloggers writing more and more puff pieces for studio pictures? Is it okay for teenagers to be encouraged to advertise for film studios and for companies like SeeFilmFirst?

Not only are teenagers being marketed TO, companies like SeeFilmFirst are also asking kids to DO the marketing. This is a dangerous path, I fear.

Care to share?

Inside The Actors Studio - Complete Episodes.

If you are an actor, a director, or a human - the Actors Studio is essential viewing. It gives a rare glimpse into the life of an actor. The best actors in the industry give amazing insight into their lives; from childhood to now. As we get to see them trace their paths-- it's amazing how similar many of their stories are. The more you watch, the more you see similar patterns, choices and personality traits. Look close enough and you may find the very secret ingredient you've been looking for on your own path to becoming a successful actor.

Seriously, these videos are un-missable. If you have any interest in the craft of acting then stop whatever you're doing now and watch these. Incredible. Be sure to share these with every actor you know, and demand they watch them immediately.

Martin Sheen

Natalie Portman

Kate Winslet

Tom Hanks

Kevin Costner

I will do my best to bring you many more full length actors studio videos in the near future. There are many out there, and they're all incredibly inspirational.

Care to share?