Friday 8 April 2011

The Kid In The Front Row Manifesto

"It's not a memo, it's a mission statement." -J.M.

You don't even know what you're going to create yet, you have no idea what you're capable of. Your first screenplay or your fifth might be great, but what about your nineteenth? We have no idea. When Woody Allen was writing stand up routines for comics, he didn't know he'd write 'Hannah And Her Sisters' or 'Crimes and Misdemeanours.' That was twenty five years later.

You don't even know who you'll meet this weekend. You don't know what problems you'll overcome in the next ten years. You don't know what your favourite film of the next five years will be. Who knows what will inspire us? Who knows who our future muses will be? We often worry about not getting the gig or not being good enough-- but we're worrying about projects and jobs that don't even exist yet.

The world is changing and the world is getting smaller. There are thousands of people out there who love the things you love. And there are writers and actors and directors and camera operators and make up artists scattered all around the world who you don't know yet. But you will. Who knows what the future will bring.

There are no rules. We live in the generation that invented Facebook, that developed YouTube, that made the studio execs a little less sure how big their pools are going to be in the coming years.

This is our time to get good. And if we suck, let's work at getting better. You used to need money and contacts to make a film. Now you need a video phone and a YouTube account.

We are the generation of Zuckerberg. Of Banksy. Of communicating in 140 characters. Anything is possible. Art has been getting its ass kicked for a long time. But things are different now. We can have voices again. It takes effort and its a choice we have to make. We need to decide on what we value.

On the one hand we have movie franchises where they remake Spiderman every four years because they know we're dumb enough to buy a ticket, we have short films made to promote chocolate bars, we have countless movies of girls running around in bikinis saying dumb bullshit in horror films that can only be called original because they have a different title to the ones that came before. We have the same thing we see every year because we've become numb to the notion of actually being challenged.

On the other hand, we have art. Personal expression. Standing up for what we believe, what we love. Nobody wanted to let Chaplin direct, nobody was comfortable with George Carlin's comedy, nobody loved that band you love when they started out; it was just their girlfriends and parents.

Art takes longer. And it's harder. And someone is more likely to fund a project about a cheerleader who went to blow-job school than your passion piece about an Israeli sandwich delivery driver who takes a road trip to Sweden to find his son. But if you follow through with it against all the odds, you get to be Bob Dylan, you get to be Godard. But more than all that you get to be yourself. You get to be a kid in the huge playground that is the unstoppable and ever surprising oasis of magic that is the human imagination.

Be art. Be yourself. Be a film that means more than the sum total of its opening weekend figures. Be Charlie Chaplin, be David Foster Wallace, be Joni Mitchell. If we don't do this, who will?

I meet, tweet, email and speak to SO MANY hugely talented writers, directors and actors every single day. But most of the time they're struggling, or pissed off, or going through a rut. It's because we're in an industry that doesn't care about us because the industry is about money, about making rich people richer. Good films don't cost $120million to make, and cinema tickets shouldn't be double or treble the minimum wage, and you shouldn't have to sell yourself out day after day in the hope that by the time you're 80 you'll get to do the projects you're really passionate about.

Lets take our ideas, our talents and our energy and let's find ways to work together, to create the projects that really matter. Its time.

Care to share?

Wednesday 6 April 2011


I am writing this without having anything to write. I thought it'd be best to warn you of that now, so that if you're bored already you don't have to keep reading. I always write when I have an urge to write, when I have something to say. Right now I don't.

But I'm curious to find out how I write when I really don't have anything to write about.

I find my creative juices are similar to playing sport. Practice helps. Warming up helps. And the best work comes when you're in good form, writing great line after great line. But if you play too often, you burn out, you use up too much energy.

The mistake that's easy to make is to come back too soon, or to force ideas when really you need to be resting. We all need rest. The problem that creative people have is that they feel guilty. We can't watch four minutes of a daytime tv show without screaming at ourselves to do something more meaningful.

But the resting is important. Seeing your friends is important. Sitting out in the sun is important. Its important to get through new experiences without cutting them short because you want to take the 'new experience' juice and turn it into a story idea.

You may live to write but you also have to live to live, too. A screenplay, or a story, even an acting performance; they need life and wisdom. What you get from writing, is a lot is experience, and craft; you learn the shortcuts and you figure out how to turn mediocre into good.

But to be great, you need life. And so often we forget that, because we're too busy fighting with ourselves, demanding that we create masterpieces. But when we demand it of ourselves, we often create hostile work environments within our own minds. Inner discipline is good, but inner chaos will stop you completing projects.

I used to cause myself a lot of distress by constantly having a voice in my head screaming "Write something! Make a film! Make some money! Make a masterpiece! Write a blog! Do something worthwhile with your life!" and it was constant, and aggressive.

But that voice, constantly in your head, is as powerful and energy sapping as if there was literally a person standing there screaming the words at you.

So now I take the pressure off. I am still extremely prolific as a screenwriter, film director and as a blogger, and I'm very demanding of myself; but when the creative well is dry, I don't use up my reserves; I just see it as a sign that I need to rest, or refuel on life, or on reading.

The voice in my head demands things instantly, as if I must write a masterpiece or create something magic before 11am. But not only is it impossible, it's unnecessary. And the pressure gets me nowhere.

I wrote this post without major pressure; just out of mild curiosity and wanting something to do before going to bed, and maybe it didn't turn out so badly.

Whether you're a successful professional or a hopeful amateur, I'm giving you permission to have the night off. Please take it. You undoubtedly deserve it.

Care to share?

Saturday 2 April 2011

The Film I Always Go Back To: You've Got Mail

Today I'm running a blogathon called "The Film I Always Go Back To", - where bloggers write about the film they always find themselves re-visiting after stressful weeks, or messy break-ups, or maybe just because they love it so much. I will be sharing other blogs on this theme over the weekend through the Facebook Fan Page.

I love "You've Got Mail", I've seen it countless times. I've never really blogged about it, apart from the time I compared it to 'Sleepless In Seattle', but as I started to think about this blogathon I set up on the theme of 'The Film I Always Come Back To', it seemed to be the only choice that fit.

I think Nora Ephon is a wonderful director. There's no-one better at creating a warm and welcoming environment for two hours. I don't think any other director could make me enjoy a film about women cooking for two hours, but that's exactly what she did with 'Julie & Julia'.

'You've Got Mail' is about love in the modern age. It was made before Facebook and Twitter, but it's still in the same world. A world where we tweet and update statuses incessantly, and we like to believe it means something, or someone's listening. 'You've Got Mail' is the fantasy; that words over a computer can mean something. They can make people fall in love.

'You've Got Mail' paints a beautiful New York City; autumn leaves and beautiful cafes on the Upper West Side. It's a New York I believe in. It'd be 'cooler' for me to see NYC the way Scorcese does, or even Woody Allen; but the New York I love is the Nora Ephron version.

And I never thought about it until writing this article; but YGM is essentially about a corporate company fighting with an independent local store, which is basically what I blog about every day, maintaining a bit of 'The Shop Around The Corner' in a world dominated by the 'FOX Books' equivalent.

I like that films can be fun and have a sense of joy and romance. This film nails it. Too often films get self-conscious about being romantic, or they make the joy too big, like some daft Will Ferrell flick. 'You've Got Mail' just tells a good story, with engaging characters and memorable dialogue. The conflict between Kathleen Kelly and Joe Fox is played perfectly by Hanks and Meg Ryan; two actors who have done their best since this film to steer clear of their natural talent for romantic comedies. Tom Hanks is masterful in this. He gets the recognition (deservedly) for films like 'Forrest Gump' and 'Saving Private Ryan', but here he has an ease and playfulness that is a pure delight to watch. Nobody can do this the way Hanks does. I just hope he does more of it-- because the smug-I'm-a-good-actor version of Hanks we've got since Da Vinci has been extremely disappointing.

I like rom-coms. And it's great when they're done right. Truth is, the indie films generally do it better (Before Sunrise, In Search Of A Midnight Kiss) but I think when it comes to big budget fare, Nora Ephron is the best there is. There's a lightness and sweetness to her work which we rarely see in film, or the world. And lightness ain't always so bad.

'You've Got Mail' is a delightful, humorous breeze; one of my favourite movies-- every time I watch it I sink into its version of New York. I love it.

If you write a blog and like the idea of this blogathon, please get involved! Write your version of "The Film I Always Go Back To" this weekend! Meanwhile, I also recommend watching "The Shop Around The Corner", the fantastic Ernst Lubitsch film that "You've Got Mail" was based on.

Care to share?

Friday 1 April 2011

ADAM DURITZ On The Struggle Between Art & Real Life

Adam Duritz, lead singer of Counting Crows, on that decision every artist has to make.

"We were all in bands then and we had shitty jobs, and we'd, y'know, wash dishes or work in record stores or wash windows by day, so we could be in a rock 'n roll band by night, y'know -- and it was after college and our friends were getting on with their lives. And they had good jobs--- well, boring jobs; but they made more money than we did and they had futures and we didn't. And there comes a point in the life of everyone in a rock 'n roll band when you have to decide, am I gonna do this with my life or am I gonna go and be in one of those other jobs, cause I can't deal with washing dishes anymore and I can't dig any more holes and I can't wash another window.

And there are those that go.

And those that stay.

And you walk out on the edge of the world and you balance yourself there for a little while, and you try and figure out which one you're gonna be.

And a lot of our friends are doing other things right now, and we're up here singing on this stage."

Care to share?

Roald Dahl Quote On Writing From "Boy"

I've just re-read Roald Dahl's 'Boy' - the author's autobiographical tale of his often exciting, often painful childhood. The book is about his life from birth to eighteen. Most of the stories he shares are quite heartbreaking; the death of his Father, the constant canings from headteachers throughout his childhood, etc. But Dahl being Dahl, he is able to take you on an enchanting and beautiful journey, full of magic, mischief and mystery; just like in his children's books.

He only addresses his writing for one brief paragraph, near the end of the book; but he does what he is always magically able to do -- explain everything you feel and believe, whilst making you feel the pain and the joy of the subject all at the same time. 

"I began to realize how simple life could be if one had a regular routine to follow with fixed hours and a fixed salary and very little original thinking to do. The life of a writer is absolute hell compared with the life of a businessman. The writer has to force himself to work. He has to make his own hours and if he doesn't go to his desk at all there is nobody to scold him. If he is a writer of fiction he lives in a world of fear. Each new day demands new ideas and he can never be sure whether he is going to come up with them or not. Two hours of writing fiction leaves this particular writer absolutely drained. For those two hours he has been miles away, he has been somewhere else, in a different place with totally different people, and the effort of swimming back into normal surroundings is very great. It is almost a shock. The writer walks out of his workroom in a daze. He wants a drink. He needs it. It happens to be a fact that nearly every writer of fiction in the world drinks more whisky than is good for him. He does it to give himself faith, hope and courage. A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it."

Care to share?