Tuesday 19 April 2011

Dreaming And Fighting: Inner Battles Of A Writer

A lot has been written about creativity and writers block and inner criticism. And it can be helpful but also, in many ways, It's a lot of nonsense. I've written blog posts in the past on these topics and luckily people have found them helpful, but my regret is that I wrote them in an authoritative tone, like I'm a psychologist or something. My writing has changed a lot in these years, as time has passed, and I've been careful about how I give 'advice' because I think anyone who isn't Carl Jung needs to be careful about giving psychology tips, and anyone who isn't Steven Spielberg should realise they don't know everything about film.

I used to harp on about how we need to beat our inner critics, be positive and all that stuff. But I'll leave all that to the self-help industry and instead I'll speak more personally.

There is part of me that likes to dream, part of me that is determined and strict, and part of me that does the writing. Then there is another part of me that oversees all of this.

I'd imagine you have something similar.

If you want to be a writer, dreaming and having ideas, by itself, is meaningless. That's why you meet so many people who want to share their film ideas with you. They're just daydreamers. They don't have the discipline to write, or to learn how to write, or to suffer through ten years of abysmal writing.

The part of me that is determined and focused is hugely responsible for my often ferocious productivity, which I think you can see hints of in this blog. It's absolutely ruthless; demanding originality, variety and a high level of quality every time. In recent posts you'll see interviews, comedic stories, advice, dreamy stuff, reviews. Part of that is the disappointment I feel when I write something and don't nail it, or when I get little feedback. That part of me, in me, is always determined to do better.

But here's the problem: you can't daydream when your brain is shouting at you to be productive. You can't relax, can't pay attention to those around you and can't even eat properly. My writing is at It's best when I've been able to daydream about meeting a beautiful woman; or had my imagination rip into the notion of setting fire to the local police station while yelling in Norwegian.

But it's incompatible with the side of me that is in a rush to achieve, to work. That side will find any excuse: there's a deadline! You've never written anything good so hurry up and do so! We all die soon! You need to earn money! Etc.

So a huge part of writing is, I think, shutting out or calming the inner crazy disciplinarian.

But without having him there, a day of daydreaming turns into four years of never completing anything.

They need each other.

Writing is, I think, about balancing the two. It's diferent for each of us, it's an individual process.

Writing begins when the daydreamer and the hard-worker allow each other to work. Then there's the part of me that catches it. That says "ah this will be a screenplay about dolphins" or "this is worthy of being a blog post about internal criticism."

For me to be able to write about these sides of my personality, means there was someone there witnessing everything. I've always been good at that-- being able to see the various sides of me smashing into each other. The one who witnesses the creative splurts and the horrible depressions and the months of irritability, has been able to teach me that these phases pass, that they're part of my creative process, and that they're all nonsense. It makes the pain of the blank page slightly easier to bare.

Writing is pleasurable for some. If you're one of them you're lucky. For me, the process is hugely difficult, lonely and demanding.

But that's writing: allowing freedom and dreaming to exist alongside productive urges.

But I count myself lucky. Too many people have no discipline, no drive, no focus. And even worse, some people have no imagination.

One last note: I realize many writers will have no idea what I'm talking about. A lot of writers don't house all these elements internally. Many have mentors, producers, etc, to provide the discipline. Likewise, many people have no ability to daydream, especially if they live in LA (joke). If you can get a colleague or manager or phone app to play one of these parts for you, I recommend it. For those of you like me, who demand doing the whole process yourself, I recommend a good night's sleep and a heavy dose of dreaming.

Care to share?

Five Question Interview With Actor PETER JAMES SMITH

Peter James Smith is a terrific actor whose work I have enjoyed for many years. He's done stints on all the shows you love-- CSI, 24, Friends, and as as a regular for seven years on The West Wing. Five question interviews are great because we get to skip there 'where did you grow up' talk and get right to the heart of the work, the acting. It's a topic that Peter knows plenty about.

You have this habit of turning up in nearly every TV show I watch. I think I mentioned to you that I was casually watching 'Friends' a few weeks back, and there you were! I am always interested to know what it's like, as an actor, to work for one or two episodes on such iconic shows as 'Friends', 'E.R.', '24', etc. How is the experience? Is it daunting to step into --- and is it sad when the job is over?

Every experience is different. On Friends, the thing I remember most from being on the set was how friendly Jennifer Anniston was. From E.R., I remember how efficient the whole process was. From 24, I remember staying up all night long and watching them film a car crash. That was cool.

These experiences aren't necessarily daunting--I think it depends a lot on the friendliness of the cast, crew and director of the show/episode. I have had some wonderful welcoming experiences and experiences where I felt less than welcome.

I do tend to go into a little depression after the end of any job I have--whether it's an on camera job or an on stage job.

I also remember little lessons I learn on each job and audition to help me on future jobs and auditions. Out of the jobs mentioned above, I think the lesson I use the most is the one I learned on the Friends audition. The lesson I learned there was that one's personality is at least equally as important as one's acting ability. If I can show a bit of my personality... my wit, my friendliness, my banter, my willingness to work with changes... I think it makes the people in the room want to work with me. They not only want someone that can do the job, but someone they would enjoy working with.

How do you like your relationship with the Director to be -- what is the ideal? Do you like to be left alone, or do you like lots of access to the director?

I'd love access to the director. However, I find--especially in television--there is so little time to get an amazing number of elements to come together, that the director may find the technical elements a lot more attention-consuming than the acting. So, most of the time I feel my job is to come in with my choices made. If the director wants any adjustments, it seems best if I'm able to do them quickly and smoothly.

There have been times where I do feel that the director takes the time to talk to me about what I'm doing --and I love when that happens-- but it feels like an exception rather than a rule.

I'd like to mention theater here. I think one of the things that a theater director told me that I think is brilliant is the director's job is to guide the actor into what the director wants the actor to do, but to do it in such a way that the actor thinks it was the actor's idea the whole time.

How is preparing for a stage role different to comparing for a screen role?

I think, again, because of the fast turn around in television--one's best tool is oneself. Be as natural and reactive as you would be in that actual situation.

Whereas, in theater, I feel one has time to build a different person entirely.

Why do you love acting?

Thanks for this question. It's been a while since I thought of it. I believe that acting, at it's highest, can put an audience into a character's shoes. In that way, a type of person that an audience member might not know much about, or perhaps even fear or dislike in some way--the audience could get to know this person and become more understanding of this type of person and, as a result, there is a little less ignorance and a little less prejudice in the world.

There are so many ups and downs when working in this industry. Especially for actors; one minute you have a heap of offers and projects, the next you're unemployed and nothing is coming your way. How do you deal with that? Has it gotten easier over the years?

It's funny. I don't think of how I deal with it. I just live my life in the every day and take what life does bring me--whether it's a heap of offers or a free day to go walking on the beach. It hasn't gotten easier. There is a certain level of acceptance... but there are also moments of panic when thinking about money or about making enough as a union actor to qualify for health benefits.

Care to share?

Friday 15 April 2011

Scream 4

I loved it. Had a great time.

It all began yesterday. A meeting was cancelled and I found myself in town with some time to spare. I went to see "Limitless". There was a trailer for "Scre4m". I loved the trailer. Felt a strong sense of affection for the characters. Or maybe it's nostalgia.

I am often found preaching against sequels -- but what can I say? I saw the trailer and then I wanted to see it. I felt an emotional attachment. Is that such a bad thing? Sure it may be a cash in, but I want to see the Ghostbusters again. I want to see Woody and Buzz argue. We fall in love with characters and they inform our childhoods, our teenage years, and we always long for them. "They don't make them like they used to," we say. We think we miss the stories but most of the time we miss the people.

I didn't think I was a big "Scream" fan and I don't even remember the sequels. But I was so on board with this film.

And Emma Roberts is gorgeous. And Hayden Pannethingy is too.

And suddenly I'm like everyone else. Excited about a sequel and staring at gorgeous women getting stabbed in close-up. This is so not me.

But it is me, because it's the movies, and I experienced real community. The packed out cinema was in giant fits of laughter, and there were HUGE screams. It was almost enough to stop people lighting up their Blackberries. We all laughed together when a woman screamed way too loudly, and we all shouted at the characters, trying to save them. And we knew exactly what was coming yet we kept getting surprised.

And this was funnier than any comedy I've seen in years. It's strange how attached you get to Sidney and Dewey and co. You don't get that from one movie. You get that from three movies and a ten year hiatus.

I had a blast. The cinema can be such an amazing thing. I hate people using their phones in the cinema but at the climax of the film they forgot about their mobile devices because they were gripped by the plot devices. People shouted and talked throughout the movie, but I liked it. People needed to talk. And at the end, everyone applauded. I was surprised, but it was earned. We all had so much fun together.

The opening night audiences are the fans. They're in the club. The cynics come a week later. That's usually me.

I learned something tonight. Don't judge a film too quickly. And don't be pretentious, don't think you're smarter than anyone, or that "people like crap films these days". It might make you feel clever, but while you're feeling clever and righteous, everyone is at the movies having the time of their lives.

Care to share?

Happy Birthday Charlie, We Love You

He was just another kid. London was different then. Poverty was rife. And he didn't know his Father, and his Mother had mental problems. 

People see Chaplin as a genius who appeared overnight. But the work began when he was just a kid. He loved to perform. His training was his difficult life, and the discipline of performing consistently as part of the The Eight Lancashire Lads and then as a Vaudeville performer. His first moment on stage was as a five year old, and his first film contract was in 1913 -- so he had nineteen years of learning his art, of practising his trade. These days we want to be discovered the minute we make a YouTube video; but back then, you learned. And you struggled. 

He knew everything about performing, and about comedy. And when you watch his films, you realize he knew more about life, and love, than pretty much all of us. 

The world is different now. We anticipate "Scream 4" and "Fast & Furious 5", and we carefully make and market films as products for specific audiences. 

Chaplin represents a different idea. And 122 years after his birth, we're still waiting for someone else like him.

And if I'm honest, I hope we'll never find them.

Care to share?

Thursday 14 April 2011

Kid In The Front Row Arrested

The incredibly talented and world famous film blogger who is rumoured to have dated Scarlet Johannson, Natalie Portman, and numerous unattractive extras from his own projects, was arrested tonight after an unexpected bloodbath in a local cinema, a crime which is utterly unacceptable unless you've been sitting through a Ben Stiller double-bill.

The blogger and famed womanizer began the night suspiciously at the ticket booth when he yelled abusive language at the cinema worker. He was about to be kicked out of the building but after much arguing, the video footage proved that the ticket seller had been "hovering around behind the counter pretending to be unaware of the sixteen people waiting in line."

The Kid In The Front Row, who surprised onlookers by making a rare appearance without a Hollywood starlet by his side, erupted again shortly after, due to being charged 14.99 for a small popcorn and 7.25 for having his ticket stub ripped in half.

Staff were relieved when The Kid took to his seat, as they know from previous experience that he gets immensely engrossed in the movies, or in the arms of iconic sex symbols in the back row.

The Kid, eager to watch a film in the absence of an A-list babe by his side, was incensed, if not inflamed (near to the point of combustion) when two separate people had what can only be described as the 'Blackberry Flash of light', which has already been reworked on Twitter as the 'Blackberry Flash of death' after the film blogging hero, who is often compared to Brad Pitt, bludgeoned them to death with the sharp end of his ripped ticket stub, before quietly turning their Blackberries off.

The other cinemagoers were apparently confused for a few brief seconds but were drawn back to the screen by a subtle piece of product placement when Leonardo Di Caprio, who is not unlike The Kid in terms of looks and talent, said "my, this Coca Cola sure is sweet," during a nineteen second close-up of a coke can in 3D.

It was just after this moment when two old ladies, who possibly witnessed the invention of the film camera back in their teenage years, made the fatal error of whispering softly and sweetly and cutely and caringly to each other for no longer, but also no less than, about 34 minutes, on the topic of whether Di Caprio was a Nazi during the war.

As The Kid In The Front Row glanced their way, his attention was also drawn to the kissing couple to the side of him whose kisses were unusually loud, as if they were were in a Foley effects recording session. At this precise moment a cinema employee came in. The Kid hoped this was to deal with the unruly noisemakers but it turns out he came into the screening because it's the only place in the building to get a good phone signal.

And then The Kid In The Front Row snapped. Of course, industry insiders had always feared that the Blogger and filmmaker, whose strength and abilities had been labelled as "a young Arnie with the coolness of Bruce Willis and the power of The Rock," would one day snap.

The Kid In The Front Row brutally killed all the cinemagoers and many staff, but it is hoped a jury will give him some leniency as he did stay for the credits.

Care to share?