Monday 24 September 2012


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. 

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

But we want it to be authentic. 

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. 


It is cool dude. We should make the movie.


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


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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".


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?