Friday 28 September 2012

The 20th Raindance Film Festival Begins

Actually it began yesterday. I was out of town and my pass hadn't been arranged. But now I'm here, and I'm excited.

Everyone is here because they love great movies. You're surrounded by people who are fascinated by obscure Slovenian movies and films made for £3000 by 18 year olds. It's not that anyone has anything against superhero movies, it's just that we never have any trouble finding them.

You come to raindance because you have a genuine chance to be a part of a wonderful cinematic experience that you'll have trouble replicating anywhere else.

And of course, the cast and crew are in the audience, the families are here. You never know how things will go -- will a masterpiece play to an empty cinema? Will a piece of crap bore a packed house?

When films play in a festival, they're alive! More like a band playing a nervous gig than a solid filmic product.

So many of the films I'll be writing about over the next week and a bit will be international premieres of movies you've never heard of. And that's exciting. Those of us in attendance have the opportunity to share with you the gems that we find.

The Raindance Film Festival began in a small and humble way, and it still has that feel. The organizers are accessible, the audience down to earth and excited. Yet Raindance is at the heart of the British film industry. And in the short film categories, one film from the festival will go on to be shortlisted for an Academy Award. Isn't that exciting!? I think so.

I won't be reviewing every film I see, that's not really my thing. But I'll tell you about the best ones and probably moan about the bad ones. Outside of that, I hope to give you all an insight into what it's like at the Raindance Film Festival this year. If you happen to be in London, you can buy tickets at the Raindance Website

Care to share?

Thursday 27 September 2012

Jack Kerouac's On The Road

It's my favourite book. And now the movie's coming out.

The magic of the book, for me, is in the language. Kerouac's use of words, his epic mystical ramblings that light up your SOUL! I've never known anything like it. The book is a big joy for me every time I read it.

And I like MY vision. The Denver in my imagination, the sweet little Marylou I picture.

I worry that, if I watch the movie, then I'll never be able to fully enjoy my vision again, what do you think?

This might seem trivial but to me, it's important! The art that we love carries us through life.  When people grow up loving Tom Hanks or John Wayne or Audrey Hepburn, it becomes a part of their identity.

And you are what you read.

And I'm not a bible reader-- instead I have books like 'On The Road' and they fill me up good. But what if I hate the film but the images stick with me? What if I can never get back the 'On The Road' that I love?

On the other hand, I'm so curious to see what they've done. To see what it looks like.

But anyway, I don't even see what's appealing about Jack Kerouac on the big screen? It was all about the words. The journey you go on in your mind. Turning his words into cinematic interpretations, no way will it be as good!

I brought this up on the Facebook page a few weeks ago, and everyone said I should go see it, but should I? How often are the adaptations great? And this isn't just a book I like, it's my favourite one! I love every darn word I come across in that thing and all the places it takes me.

I don't want to lose any of that. But at the same time, it's fascinating that they've made the movie. I'm curious to see it, I want to know what they did. But I don't want to lose my vision of it--- but I fear the experience of the movie will forever infect my imagination on future reads. What should I do?

Care to share?

Tuesday 25 September 2012

30 Tips To Get You Writing Your Screenplay

1. Set a timer on your phone. Let's say an hour. Sit and don't do anything for that hour. Don't look at your phone again, don't turn on the TV. Don't tweet. It's just you and the chair. Don't write down ideas that come to you, don't do anything. Sit, think, dream. But no action. 

As creative people we often snap into action the second we feel we have a seed of an idea. So often, it's a false alarm, a restless brain. Take the time to sit with your ideas. If you want to write them down, tough. Not during this hour. 

2. Write a feature film in less than an hour, by outlining it scene by scene as it comes into your brain. Like this:

MARK is at the office, bored and depressed. 
SALLY is working a double shift at the cake shop. She hates it. 
MARK walks into the CAKE shop. He's depressed. SALLY tells him to buy a cake. He does so.
MARK walks out of the store, wishing he'd got her number. 
The cake shop EXPLODES. 
MARK sprints inside, he hunts for SALLY in between the flames. 

The example above is me being silly -- that wouldn't make a good film at all. But a good shortcut with writing is just to outline ideas as they come to you. To throw caution to the wind. Don't write a masterpiece, just find the next sentence. 

Before you know it, you've outlined a whole movie. If it sucks, who cares? You've lost nothing but an hour or two. If it's good? Go back to it and build from it. 

3. Write a bad script. Even if your ideas are AWFUL, or NON-EXISTENT, write it anyway. You'll learn from it. Some people spend five years writing no scripts because their ideas aren't good enough. But in fact, if you wrote 15 bad scripts in that time, you'd learn so much about yourself and your writing. 

4. Quit. Go do something else. Become a shepherd, get into a relationship with a trout. If you quit for good, then it probably wasn't for you -- but if you come back to it some day, then maybe the break is exactly what you needed. Some people write their masterpieces in their 70's. Some people have great talent, but have nothing to say. Rather than sitting in your room trying to force a script out, go volunteer in Africa. Go visit a friend in France. Anything is better than sitting around not writing

5. Be around people who make you laugh. 

6. Do things that make you uncomfortable. Just past your comfort zone is where you have the interesting experiences, and meet people that you didn't think you'd ever come across. 

7. When a friend asks you to do something that you don't want to do --- instead of making the excuse that you're tired, or have work in the morning, say 'yes' to the offer and go and do the thing you don't want to do. 

8. Work on the script that's been circling around your brain since you were 13. You know the one; the script you've been destined to write because it's so personal yet have always stayed away from because you don't have enough clarity. Attack it like you know exactly what to write. And guess what, you do know how to write it, you're just a scaredy cat. That's right. 

9. Realise your inner-critic has absolutely no jurisdiction over your life. What has it ever done? All it does is shout at you from some self-righteous position within your own brain. Tell it to go for a long walk. You can actually train yourself to listen to your inner-critic. You'll actually hear that voice in you that says, "you suck, you're a fraud, you have no talent", or maybe it's worse, maybe it says, "your parents were right, you're a waster, and your girlfriends that dumped you had the right idea too....". 

Stop and think for a minute. With that voice in your head, you'll never get any work done.

You have to understand that the inner-critic is there to save you from perceived threats, from embarrassing yourself. But when you're 89 and dead, you won't regret being embarrassed. But you will regret not writing a script because some bitch on Facebook thought you had no talent, and you'll regret not sending your script to a producer just because an inner voice said you're talentless. 

Get your act together and stop listening to that bullshit. It's nonsense. 

10. Take a moment to look around, breath; and realise that it's only screenwriting. It's make-believe, a bit of fun. 

11. If you're stuck on a particular script, then write some random scenes for fun. For example, if you're writing a tense FBI thriller; write a scene where your characters are at the zoo for no reason. When your FBI agents and detectives are taken out of their context, and find themselves at a zoo for no reason other than to look at penguins, you'll find yourself amused by them, and you'll see them in a different light. 

It doesn't have to be the zoo. It can be anywhere. Just take your characters out of the story and write a random scene for fun. 

12. Stop asking for people's opinions every five minutes. A lot of people out there will stop you from writing. Sometimes it's jealousy or competitiveness, but mostly it's because --- all people have different ideas. Writing is about having your own ideas, your own vision. EVERYONE THINKS THEY KNOW what a good story is, EVERYONE. Why? Nobody knows. But people will talk you out of anything. 

I want to write a story about two guys in a prison called Shawshank. It's about hope, and friendship.

I can't see how that would work.

It'll be great. 

No Stephen. A story needs something more interesting -- like a love interest, or maybe a conspiracy at the prison --- maybe, I know, maybe one of the inmates is a former boxer with a drug addiction who wants to join the CIA. 

This is what people are like! They're mental! They think your ideas suck. And even when they think they're good, they'll still offer suggestions! And these things throw you -- because some people can speak so authoritatively. 

Stop asking for opinions and get writing, get it done. 

13. Shut up. Sit down. Write. 

14. Write about the personal stuff. The insecurity you feel when you're around people who intimidate you, or the confidence you feel when you're doing what you love, or the heartbreaks you felt when people left you. I know that stuff is painful, but it's where the gold is. It's where you have to mine for insight. Your experiences are PERSONAL. They're YOUR OWN. But they're also universal. 

If you're not sharing who you really are, then you're not doing a good job. 

15. Get dumped. 

16. Dump someone. 

17. Dump someone. Get back with them. Dump them again. Get into an argument. Propose to them. Make them cry. Get beaten up by their family. 

All that stuff helps. Creativity comes from chaos. 

18. But you can't be your most creative in the midst of chaos. You need to find your place. Your room. Your ocean. Your garden. Wherever it is. You need to find your place where the omens are good, where the world says "Write, and be yourself!" Stop making excuses and make sure you go there to do your work. 

19. Come on, get off of Twitter. Leave Facebook alone. 

"@kidinfrontrow is five pages into my screenplay, YAY."

Who cares? No-one. Don't go for short and quick gratification. Save it for when you can say "I WROTE THE WHOLE BLOODY THING! YEAH!"

Social networks are a distraction. They have their purpose, sure, but they don't help you get into your imagination. Study after study has shown that these distractions stop us from focusing. Neuroscience has proved that we can't multitask, that it takes 25 minutes to refocus after a distraction. 

You can be the exception to the rule if you want, but instead I think you should shut out the distractions and focus on your writing. 

20. Think about dying. Will you say "I wish I had tweeted more", or maybe, "I wish I had done more browsing on the internet of a morning". Or will you wish you had spent more time on your passion, writing? 

21. Realise that your script doesn't have to be perfect. People get huge writers block due to perfectionism. Some of the most imperfect things can be perfect. The mistakes can resonate with people. Don't waste your time fearing it's not the best it can be. Just do what you can, then let go. 

22. Reconnect with an old friend. The one you haven't seen in seven years, who six months ago you emailed about catching up. There's something in those old friendships that, when you re-connect with them, they open up parts of you that you forgot about. There's something warm and exciting about rediscovering who you were and where you've come from. Again, this stuff is a Godsend, writing-wise. 

23. Read/Watch/Study your guilty pleasures. Because they're the things you really love. They hold the key to who you are and what you want to write about. 

24. Use a pen and paper. 

25. Go for a run. Do it regularly. It's good for your health, good for your memory, good for creative ideas, good in every single way. 

26. Get a pad and paper and just write. Write nonsense! Write anything. Just make sure words come out. It's like clearing out the trash --- eventually patterns will form, things will link up -- within the randomness, there'll be a message. 

27. Surround yourself with positive influences. Hang out with friends who love that you're a writer, watch YouTube videos of people who inspire you. Watch movies that you love. Have adventures with people who make you laugh. 

Writing is tough. It's hard work. It's gruelling and there will be so many things in the world that say "you're not good enough", and "you'll never make it!" You have to overcome these by yourself, but it helps to be surrounded by good people who believe in you. 

28. Figure out when you write the best. Is it early in the morning? Is it at night after everyone is asleep? Is it in the afternoon when you're fully awake? 

Think about your eating habits too. Does caffeine make you more, or less creative? Does pasta make you tired? Do you keep getting ideas after eating chocolate? 

Don't get too obsessed with this stuff, but look for patterns. 

29. Find your own voice. 

You do this by writing. A lot. 

And don't be afraid of your influences. Embrace them. You'll sound like them at first, but eventually you'll find your own way. It's all part of the journey. 

30. Realise it's a journey. A long and winding road, full of ups and downs. You have scripts you haven't written yet that will ABSOLUTELY SUCK.

But that's what it is to be a writer. 

Sometimes nobody believes in you, and your shitty writing proves them absolutely right. 

Until you get up again, write something new, and improve a little. 

Bit by bit, day by day. You keep writing. 

You keep finding your voice. 

Write, write, write. 

And enjoy it. Because, as I said, it's a journey.

Care to share?


The reason that GROUNDHOG DAY is so funny and has lasted for so long as one of the all-time great comedies, is how intricately it is put together. The problem with most comedies is that the structure and premise are not given due attention. Writers latch on to an idea and use it as a jumping point. But the best films are built around the premise. If you set the film up in the correct way, the structure and rules don't limit you, they free you. 

The first eighteen minutes of the film are not actually particularly funny. In fact, if it wasn't for the charisma and humour of Bill Murray, it's possible you would be bored. What the opening of the film does do - is plant in the key concepts which the film will keep referring to again and again and again. 

The second time Phil Connors (Bill Murray) experiences Groundhog Day is when the film really begins to deliver the laughs. The concept is a funny one, 'what if a guy had to live the same day again and again?' --- the second walk-through of the day delivers on this joke. Most movies peak at this moment-- they have a humorous set-up, play out the joke, and then run out of ideas. It's why most rom-coms, despite sounding clever in a pitch meeting, end up being predictable run of the mill movies. 

When the audience knows the world your film is set in, you can take them anywhere, as long as it stays within the confines of the universe you've created. In 'Groundhog Day', once the audience knows that they're going to be seeing the same day again and again -- the director, Harold Ramis, was free to dive into different scenarios without needing to set them up each time. This is why your premise, and how you deliver it, has to be perfect. This is the difference between great comedy and average-to-poor comedy. It's like when I wrote recently about 'The Watch' and 'Ted' - they're lazy and hacked together. Like the writers thought "Oh, a guy can't get rid of his bear, and a bunch of neighbours protect their hometown from aliens," and thought that would be enough, but it's about so much more than that to produce a stand-out comedy.

Another thing that 'Groundhog Day' has going for it is, of course, Mr Bill Murray, in what is surely the defining performance of his career. The crazy thing about his miserable, angry character, is that we can relate to him! Despite the supernatural thing he is experiencing, of living the same day over and over, we realise that it's not too far from our own experiences. Most of us go through months and months of seeing the same people, having the same conversations, facing the same problems. Despite the ridiculous situation Connors is in, it's also surprisingly normal.

What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?

That about sums it up for me. 

As Phil grapples with his bizarre situation, he is plagued with concerns about the meaning of his life, or lack thereof. His concerns are specific to his situation, of living the same day again and again, yet miraculously, they are all same issues we all face, day after day. At various points in the film, Phil finds temporary freedom - through driving on train tracks, manipulating dates with Nancy, and eventually -- through killing himself. These troubling yet hilarious moments give us a great insight into Phil's character, and they also strengthen the premise. We realise, this guy really is stuck in a predicament, and nothing he does matters. You could argue that the movie has atheistic undertones--- if life is meaningless, what exactly are we meant to live for? 

The perfect construction of the film's premise allowed for so many delightful moments that wouldn't have been possible without it. A perfect example is the morning after Phil is put in jail. Despite being miserable in his repeated daily existence, he is ecstatic about being a free man again. He comes down the steps and talks to the woman from the bed-and-breakfast place. Before she can offer him coffee or ask about the weather, Connors answers all the questions, because he's heard them countless times before. This joke was set up in the opening stages of the film, and repeated throughout. Comedy is like lego, you have to build the pieces and make sure they fit together perfectly. It's also about repetition. 'Groundhog Day' is pretty much just five or six scenes being repeated again and again, but they're different each time because of the plight of the character. (If you're interested in these elements of comedy, I recommend you read my blog post about Billy Wilder and I.A. L Diamond's 'The Apartment' and also read the screenplay).

Then we have Phil Connors in the coffee house, with a plethora of cakes and pancakes and cigarettes -- throwing caution to the wind. He made the choice, which I must say is an extremely tempting one, to live a life full of eating bad food and not giving a crap about anything. Again, he is forced into this viewpoint by the premise of the film, yet it is also something we relate to in our monotonous, repetitive lives. If I eat a giant cake today, does it matter? If life is meaningless anyway, should I smoke some cigarettes and have another pancake? 

'Groundhog Day' is a fresh take on a tried and tested notion that any day could be our last, and that it's about making the most of life. To quote the title of a new film staring Dakota Fanning, "Now is good". Of course, we all know that now is good, but we need reminders. We need movies to drum it into us. 

The thing about Phil Connors is that he is so unaware. He thinks he's above the work he's doing, being forced to travel to see if a rat sees its shadow. He's dissatisfied. And he sees the repeating of each day as a punishment, as another thing he has to get through. Isn't that how we all see most of our days, as something we have to get through? So he tries to manipulate the situations, by stealing money, manipulating women to go to bed with him, killing the groundhog. 

Come the end, there's only one thing Phil hasn't tried: being genuine. Getting coffee for his colleagues, taking piano lessons, trying to save an old man's life. What makes this so powerful, much like in his miserable moments, is how strongly we relate to it. We want to be people who look out for others and follow our passions and be kind to strangers; yet we always get grumpy and delay it-- we think we'll be the great versions of ourselves tomorrow, or next week, or after a trip to Spain or whenever it is we get enough sleep.

The film asks; what would you do if you had to live the same day again and again and again? Midway through we realise, we already are living the same day again and again and again. The question is, now that you know this, what are you going to do with your life? When are you going to make an effort and put a smile on people's faces? 

Care to share?

Monday 24 September 2012

Actress with the Sinking Eyes

She was one of those girls, drawn towards the movies because of her mixed up messed up past, all broken promises and visions of places that may or may not have existed.

Something went wrong, back then, and she never got a chance to grow in to who she was, who she wanted to be.

Acting was a chance to be someone else. To be someone else so deeply that maybe underneath it, she'd find out who she really was. There was never anyone around to tell her who to be or where to go. A childhood of guessing and hoping and seeing people wave goodbye, never to return.

Every audition, every rejection, was just like those younger times on foggy country roads that smelled of morning rain, where people waved goodbye from old cars getting ever closer to the distance.

She wanted one role. One chance to stake her claim. To show people her sinking eyes. To prove once and all that she existed. She assumed that, if she could be a movie star, she'd be so famous that someone would be able to explain who she was, and where she was meant to go.

Still she waited, ever hopeful. Everyone thought she wanted fame, but she just wanted to be accepted.

Care to share?